9 January 2004
President Bush will make a speech next week outlining a major space initiative, the White House said last night.
Administration officials said they expected that Mr. Bush would propose a research and development program with the aim of establishing a base on the moon, as a prelude to a longer-term goal of sending humans to Mars.
Aboard Air Force One en route to Washington, the president's press secretary, Scott McClellan, told reporters, "The president directed his administration to do a comprehensive review of our space policy, including our priorities and the future of the program, and the president will have more to say on it next week."
But another administration official cautioned that the proposal could be broad and open-ended, more in the nature of "a mission statement" rather than a detailed road map and schedule.
Still, the announcement, combined with Mr. Bush's call this week to revamp laws regarding immigration, would signal the second major policy initiative put forward by the White House at the beginning of an election year. Both new policy directives would allow the president to be portrayed as an inspirational leader whose vision goes beyond terrorism and tax cuts.
They also would have the added political benefit of diverting attention from the Democratic presidential candidates trudging through the retail politics of the Iowa caucuses.
NASA officials have said publicly since late summer that a group of senior policy advisers, convened by the White House, was meeting to establish new goals for the agency. The report on the Feb. 1 breakup of the space shuttle Columbia, which killed seven astronauts, said one of NASA's problems was the lack of a long-term, inspiring goal and called for a public debate on the issue. But that debate has largely waited for the White House, which has been distracted by the war in Iraq.
The report was released in late August, and in the months since, several news reports have appeared asserting that the White House was preparing to announce a return to the moon as a steppingstone to Mars. Some of these suggested that the announcement would come when the president attended a commemoration of the centennial of powered flight, in Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, but the president made no policy statement there.
In exhorting the country to undertake an ambitious space program, Mr. Bush would follow the example of at least two presidents. In 1961, John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. And in 1989, Mr. Bush's father, George Bush, proposed establishing a base on the Moon, sending an expedition to Mars and beginning "the permanent settlement of space."
But while President Kennedy's challenge resulted in an eight-year sprint to the moon, the elder President Bush's proposal went nowhere. By the time the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated in February, NASA had made no significant progress on how it would return to the moon, much less laying the groundwork for the far more complex question of developing a space ship with sufficient propulsion and speed to take people to Mars.
The NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, has spoken publicly in some detail about the problems of a manned landing on Mars, saying the nation would have to develop new methods of propulsion and electricity generation in space and a way to protect the astronauts from large radiation doses.
The problems are related; the radiation dose is proportional to the length of the round trip, which depends in part on propulsion, and the propulsion could be driven by electricity.
The questions Mr. O'Keefe raised are integral to another nagging problem: what should replace the shuttle? There are three surviving shuttles, but the program has been operating for 20 years, and the design is even older. NASA has begun preliminary design work on a new system to carry astronauts to low earth orbit, to reach the International Space Station and presumably achieve other goals as well, but its purpose is not yet clear.
The issue is urgent because any replacement would probably be a decade away, by which time the shuttles, if they are still flying, would be about 30 years old, experts say.
The administration, however, is facing competing priorities, experts say. One question, as noted by the chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board in August, is how much the nation can commit to spending, at a time of record budget deficits.
"This stuff is not cheap," said the chairman, Harold W. Gehman Jr., a retired admiral.
John Logsdon, the director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, who was a member of Admiral Gehman's investigative board, said yesterday evening that the report had "led the administration to say we need to articulate a vision for the program and give a sense of where we're going and why."
Aides on Capitol Hill said they were uncertain about precisely what mission the president would call for, although many analysts have argued that a simple return to the moon, which astronauts first visited almost 35 years ago, would not be enough.
One expert on NASA management, Harold E. McCurdy of American University, said that if, in fact, the plan was to go to the moon, the overall goal would be broader.
"The ultimate purpose of going back to the moon is not to go the moon," Mr. McCurdy said. "It's to go to Mars and explore the inner solar system. It's like climbing Mount Rainier in preparation for an ascent of Mount Everest."
But several space experts said yesterday evening that the announcement might be in the nature of a long-term goal and research program. This would avoid any huge expenditure in the near term, unlike, for example, the drive in the 1960's to reach the moon the first time.
If the announcement comes next week, it will probably occur as NASA's new Mars lander continues to send back stunning photos and other information.
Congressional aides also said they expected the announcement to detail a reorganization of the nation's space effort, to bring the military and civilian sides closer together to make better use of limited resources.
9 January 2004
President Bush will announce plans next week to establish a permanent human settlement on the moon and to set a goal of eventually sending Americans to Mars, administration sources said last night.
The sources said Bush will announce a new "human exploration" agenda in Washington on Wednesday, six days ahead of the final State of the Union address of his term and just as his reelection campaign moves from the planning stage to its public phase.
The plans grew out of a White House group that was assigned to examine the mission of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on Feb. 1, throwing the future of the space program into doubt.
Officials were unwilling to provide cost figures or details and would say only that Bush will direct the government to immediately begin research and development to establish a human presence or base on the moon, with the goal of having that lead to a manned mission to Mars. That endeavor could be a decade or more away, the officials said.
The last humans on the moon, the crew of Apollo 17, landed in 1972.
Even advocates within the administration said the new project is sure to be a difficult sell on Capitol Hill because of the huge costs at a time when the administration is projecting mammoth deficits for years to come, and had promised to cut the shortfall in half over the next five years.
Another objection is likely to be that the existing human space flight program is still struggling to recover from the shuttle accident. The shuttle fleet is grounded until at least September and is unable to resupply the U.S.-led international space station, which is currently relying on Russian vehicles and operating with a caretaker crew of two instead of the usual three. However, some space analysts have suggested that the very extent of the program's troubles may have helped generate a consensus around the notion that only a dramatic remedy would save it.
NASA's budget this year is about $15 billion, and officials there have been told to expect an increase in the budget the president will send to Congress in February.
The United States currently lacks the scientific and technical foundation required to send humans to Mars, and scientists still find it daunting just to land a robot there safely, as the events of the past week have shown.
Any new moon or Mars mission would take years to develop, scientists said.
Advocates of a return to the moon, already successfully conquered, have argued that a lunar initiative would be useful scientifically and envision the moon as a base for developing technologies and rehearsing the dispatch of humans to a much more distant and isolated landing zone on Mars.
Sources involved in the discussions said Bush and his advisers view the new plans for human space travel as a way to unify the country behind a gigantic common purpose at a time when relations between the parties are strained and polls show that Americans are closely divided on many issues.
"It's going back to being a uniter, not a divider," a presidential adviser said, echoing language from Bush's previous campaign, "and trying to rally people emotionally around a great
9 January 2004
President Bush will announce an ambitious new space initiative next week, including preparations to send humans to Mars some day and establish a manned science base on the moon, administration officials told reporters Thursday.
The president's call for a total renewal of America's commitment to space exploration would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and would involve technologies still in their earliest stages. But it is bound to elate space enthusiasts and provide a shot in the arm for the nation's aerospace industry.
The administration officials who revealed the president's plan to the Associated Press insisted on anonymity but said the announcement could come as early as the middle of next week.
Only last Saturday, the six-wheeled rover Spirit landed safely in a Martian crater, and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are planning to send the probe rolling off its landing pad to explore the terrain next week, just as the president makes his dramatic announcement of a new role for America's space community.
Despite the success of the nation's newest venture on Mars, Bush's proposal follows a series of recent disastrous space missions, climaxed by the death of seven astronauts in the crash of the shuttle Columbia in February and the earlier loss of two unmanned spacecraft: the Mars Polar Lander with its two surface probes and the Mars Climate Orbiter. The lander crashed on the Martian surface, and the orbiter was lost somewhere in space just before its scheduled arrival at the planet.
The international space station, with its price tag climbing past $60 billion and little to show for it in the way of scientific discovery, has also generated strong criticism in Congress -- although much of that diminished in the past week with the triumph of Spirit's landing and the promise of another landing by Opportunity, Spirit's twin spacecraft now heading for a Jan. 24 rendezvous on the Red Planet.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with Bush in Florida Wednesday that the president would make an announcement of his goal for the future of America in space next week but would not give any details.
Another White House spokesman reminded The Chronicle by telephone that after the Columbia tragedy the president had pledged that "our journey into space will continue."
According to the Associated Press, the president's space policy speech next week will include long-range plans for a manned scientific habitat on the moon, and a human journey to Mars -- both extremely long-term projects.
As to Mars, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keeffe said with elation on Wednesday that "the rovers are a precursor mission -- kind of an advance team -- to figuring out what the conditions are on the planet, and once we figure out how to deal with human effects, we can then send humans to explore in real time."
NASA once dreamed of completing a manned mission to Mars in the early part of this century. But realistic space planners now foresee a series of unmanned Mars missions stretching out as far as 2050.
A one-way voyage across 100 million miles of space to the cold, dry planet with a payload of machinery like Spirit takes seven months. But for far larger spacecraft carrying a team of at least two humans and their gear to and from Mars, the travel time would more than double. Supporting the crew long enough to perform meaningful research would call for far larger payloads than any planetary missions yet launched.
A manned mission to Mars might be conceivable, space experts have argued -- but unlikely before the end of this century.
Moon colonies were first broached as possibilities after the Apollo missions of the 1970s, but there is no lunar atmosphere at all, and although the moon is only 240,000 miles from Earth -- a four-day flight for the Apollo astronauts -- the logistics of sending human crews there, and the task of keeping them alive with food, fuel and a permanent habitat would be formidable.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.E-mail David Perlman at email@example.com.
9 January 2004
WASHINGTON -- President Bush will outline a plan next week for returning humans to the moon as preparation for exploring deeper space destinations, including Mars, administration sources said late Thursday.
The president's plan calls for phasing out the U.S. role in the international space station and retiring the aging space shuttle fleet, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
At the same time, the president is not expected to commit to sending a human to Mars anytime soon, but instead will lay out a series of goals aimed at helping NASA recover from the Columbia disaster. It will include robotic missions like the recent landing of a robotic rock hound on the Red Planet.
To finance the plan NASA's $15.5 billion a year budget will grow by about 5 percent annually and some other agency programs may have to be pared, sources said.
Unclear late Thursday was whether the president will set out any proposed changes in the way space exploration is organized and supervised -- a shift that some are pushing within the administration -- to allow NASA and the Defense Department to swap more information and technology.
The policy, which bears some resemblance to a proposal made by Bush's father almost 15 years ago, was developed by a team overseen by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Administration officials see the initiative as a vital national security measure that would lead to development of new technologies and potential new sources of energy.
The president's announcement, which is tentatively scheduled for the middle of next week after his return from the Summit of the Americas in Mexico, will call for exploring multiple destinations, with the lunar outpost being a possible first step.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with Bush in Florida that the president would make an announcement about space next week, but he declined to give details.
Last summer, the president ordered a top-to-bottom "review of our space policy, including our priorities and the future direction of the program, and the president will have more to say on it next week," McClellan said.
Bush has been expected to announce a major space initiative, and some had speculated that he would do so at the 100th-anniversary celebration of the Wright brothers' first flight last month in North Carolina. Instead, he only pledged to keep the United States at the forefront of world aviation.
Under Bush's proposal, astronauts would return to the moon by 2013 to test spacecraft and equipment for further exploration in deep space, including manned missions to initially orbit Mars, land and be able to return.
The last manned mission to the moon was in 1972. A total of 12 Americans walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972.
The nation's space shuttle fleet, the backbone of NASA's manned space program, is designed only for near-Earth orbit and for ferrying equipment, supplies and crew members between Earth and the space station.
When NASA's shuttle fleet resumes missions, possibly as soon as September, the three remaining orbiters would be used to finish station assembly. By 2016, after finishing research on the human response to long-duration spaceflight, NASA's role in the station would diminish, shifting the burden for maintaining the orbiting space lab to the Russians, Europeans and Japanese.
According to an account that will be published in Aviation Week & Space Technology, the White House will drop plans for a reusable orbital space plane. Congress has failed to embrace the space plane, which NASA began to pursue about three years ago.
Instead NASA will develop a Crew Exploration Vehicle patterned after the Apollo capsules that took astronauts to the moon previously.
The proposed capsule could take astronauts to the moon but a more capable version would be developed for trips to an asteroid or a Mars mission. A mission to take astronauts on an orbit around Mars and back to Earth could occur around 2020.
The last president to propose a manned mission to Mars was Bush's father, who in 1989 said Americans should lead the way "back to the moon, back to the future, and this time to stay."
When he outlined his proposal on the 20th anniversary of the first manned moon landing, then-President Bush said the next step would be "a journey to another planet: a manned mission to Mars."
At the time, the estimated cost was between $400 billion and $500 billion, a price tag too high for Congress, which scuttled the proposal.
Similar obstacles confront any plan that the current president might propose. He is faced with a budget deficit that is expected to top $500 billion this year alone.
Bush's proposal, if it wins support in Congress, will be a significant realignment of the nation's space program, which for the last decade has seen little growth in its budget at a time when it has been trying to keep the aging shuttle fleet aloft and finish a space station that has consistently run over budget.
Glenn Mahone, a spokesman for NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, said the president "is certainly committed to America's space program and to the cause of exploration." Mahone declined to discuss details of Bush's plan.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, among others in Congress, has called for an expansion of the U.S. space program, including a return to the moon.
Apollo 11, which landed on the moon in July 1969, was the first of six to successfully make lunar landings.
Reporters Mark Carreau in California and Patty Reinert in Washington contributed to this story.