First Iraq – tomorrow, the UNIVERSE!

An editorial
by Chris Hibbard
Editor-in-Chief
The Meliorist
2006-2008

(With information gleaned from http://www.spaceref.com, science.slashdot.org, canadafreepress.com & http://www.aviationweek.com)

First Iraq – tomorrow, the UNIVERSE!

Being kind of a geek, I am drawn to all things outer space. Like many others, I am fascinated by the sheer unfathomable size and nature of our universe, in which our tiny blue-green planet is barely even a speck. This love of outer space had led me to this week’s topic – another failed mission and broken promise by the Western World’s fearless leader – President “Yosemite Sam” George W. Bush.

Four years ago this month, Bush unveiled his ‘new’ vision for space exploration in a speech given at the National Aeronautic Space Agency (NASA) headquarters in Washington. In this speech, Bush called on NASA to “gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.”

Keep in mind that this was four years ago, three years after 9/11 and the beginning of the War on Terror, and shortly after Bush’s re-election. I smile when I imagine Bush, after a hard day at the office devoting 75 per cent of American resources towards securing oil, looking up at the heavens above and thinking, “Goshdarnit, I betcha there’s lots of oil up there and very few terrorists to boot! Yee-Haw! Saddle up the broncos Dickey – we’re going to the moon!”

Anyway, in his 2004 speech Bush implied that his government would supply NASA with $1 billion over the next five years, meant to set a new course for America’s space program, one with “a new focus and clear objectives for the future.” Seems nice, right? Wrong. Considering that it costs a cool $500 million to launch the space shuttle just once, $1 billion seems to shrink pretty fast. Add to that the fact that one year after delivering the speech, the promised allocation of funds evaporated – that billion was needed elsewhere.

Mike Griffin, a NASA administrator, was pretty blunt in his assessment last week at a meeting in front of the American Astronomical Society, and his words ring as loud.

“About two weeks after I was privately informed that I had been selected to be the new Administrator, that [$1 billion] increase was rescinded and, further, an additional $2 billion reduction incurred,” Griffin said.

But the fact is that Bush’s goals for space exploration sounded great at the time. Heck, it even had three and a half clear objectives – things that the Bush administration is not particularly skilled at coming up with.

The first objective: to complete the International Space Station by 2010, completing a project that has been underway since 1998. Russia and 14 other countries are partners with the United States in this endeavour.

The second objective: to phase out or retire the Space Shuttle and replace it with a new Crew Exploration Vehicle. Though this new CEV’s main purpose would be to exit Earth’s orbit, it would also be used to ferry astronauts to and from the aforementioned Space Station.

The third objective: A return to the moon by 2020 “with the goal of living and working there for increasingly extended periods of time.” This, the first return since the 1960s, would also see us establish a launching base for extended space exploration.

Which brings us to objective 3.5: Mars, baby! Mars! “With the experience and knowledge gained on the moon,” Bush said in his 2004 speech, “we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.” He implied that the exploration of the moon and Mars could lead to the discovery and subsequent harvesting of raw materials that “might be turned into rocket fuel or breathable air.”

These objectives appeared to be attainable, reasonable, and intriguing. Baby steps towards deep space exploration and so on; and then, Star Trek here we come! Not so, I’m afraid.

According to Bush’s speech, these objectives were only supposed to cost a meager $12 billion, petty cash to the White House, circa 2004. But therein lies the problem. That money, earmarked for NASA and more cool Star Trek fun, no longer exists. It has been reallocated to continue fighting the terrorists, occupying Iraq, protecting oil interests, and basically keeping America from tearing itself apart.

Of course, Bush couldn’t have known that this would happen, could he? If he did, why would he have promised said billion dollars in the first place? Why would he mention Mars?

It couldn’t have anything to do with his connections with mega-corporations such as Halliburton, who would stand to make billions on contracts and consulting services could it? There couldn’t be some pre-planned next step that involved selling acres of land on the moon to corporations and business interests could there?

There sure could!

In the April 2000 edition of Oil & Gas Journal, Halliburton scientist Steve Streich explained why a Mars program would be so lucrative for Halliburton. “One area of great importance is finding out of what the inside of Mars consists. That’s where the petroleum industry comes in.” Benefits for “the oil and gas industry may lie in technology that NASA will use for drilling into the surface of Mars.” Streich also wrote that there is “great potential for a happy synergy between space researchers” on a Mars project and “the oil and gas industry.” On top of the Halliburton factor, USA Today reported in the weeks following Bush’s space speech that Cheney “persuaded Bush that there could be military benefits, such as space-based defense systems.”

As for corporate lunar-ownership, Edward Hudgins, editor of the book “Space: The Free-Market Frontier” suggested on CNN just last week that large corporations be given rights to their own bases on the moon, “in exchange for them investing in the Bush Space project”.

Now, maybe I’m just being paranoid. I don’t deny the fact that I am not fond of “Yosemite Sam” Bush. I’ve gotten quite used to hearing him say one fabulous thing in his poor-English drawl, only to see his government fail to live up to their promises, and I doubt that I am alone in this.

But I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on Bush. Everyone gives him such a hard time. He can’t help that he’s just a simple country boy with the world’s biggest toy chest. Yet, enough people liked him that he got voted in not once, but twice. So, if I am to truly bash George Bush, it necessitates an additional bashing of half the American voting population. Needless to say, I am reluctant to publicly bash 62,000,000 people, whom I assume had some sort of basis for their temporary insanity.

I can say, though, that like with the invasion of Iraq, Bush seems prone to taking his father’s ideas and trying to improve on them. Bush’s daddy, George H. W. Bush, also wanted to go into space when he was in office, only George H. W. Bush’s experts estimated it would cost about $500 billion, putting an end to that idea. Fast-forward ten years, and while I don’t know much about economics, I somehow doubt that $500 billion bucks in 1989 is now equal to $1 billion today. On a related note, while George H. W. Bush invoked Christopher Columbus in his spacey-speech (exploring new territory etc.), George W. started his speech by invoking Lewis and Clark, and their spirit of discovery.

I could go on for pages about all the critics of Bush’s vision for space and their criticisms, I think: how many of them feel that entrepreneurs could do more than NASA for less money; and others who think the lunar base idea should be scrapped in favour of manned missions to land on asteroids as they pass our planet, and so on.

But, I’ve said almost enough already, I think. The fact is that while Bush’s vision for space sounded romantic and exciting, it was just a fresh coat of paint on a rusty old lemon. The only thing left of Bush’s 2004 Vision for Space Exploration is a real need to retire the space shuttles, which have become notoriously dangerous in the last ten years.

On a positive note, however, while he may be the worst American President the world has seen since Nixon, Georgie-boy sure can spew great sound bites, making him a comedian’s dream leader. Take this example from his 2004 space-speech: “We do not know where this journey will end, but human beings are headed into the cosmos.” Sounds good, but it implies that human beings have never been into space before.

Who knows, maybe they don’t teach students about Neil Armstrong and John Glenn and the Space Race in Texas primary schools?

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~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

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