Bush offers plan to go to moon — and beyond

Declaration evokes high, if cautious, praise from Utahns
By Joe Bauman
Deseret News
January 15, 2004

President Bush said he intends to "explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system."
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

President Bush's declaration Wednesday that the United States will return to the moon — and eventually launch manned trips to Mars "to see and examine and touch for ourselves" — is earning high, if sometimes cautious, praise from Utah companies and individuals interested in space exploration. Among them is Kim Hyatt, an astronomy enthusiast from Salt Lake City who recalled that space exploration was once imagined as a step-by-step advance into the realms beyond Earth. But, he said, the Cold War space race consumed and overshadowed that approach. "This is the first time that I have heard of anything in over 40 years that even approaches what had been envisioned by sensible, rational people in the beginning," he said.

"Today," Bush said at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., "I announce a new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system. We will begin the effort quickly, using existing programs and personnel." The president said $11 billion in NASA funding already earmarked over the next five years would be shifted into the initiative. Meanwhile, he will request an additional $1 billion from Congress in appropriations spread out over five years.

Melodie DeGuibert, spokeswoman for ATK Thiokol Propulsion, said her northern Utah firm "supports the president's bold vision to return to the moon and travel to Mars." ATK Thiokol, with offices and a test and assembly area near Promontory, Box Elder County, builds the giant boosters for the space shuttle. Gail Bingham, the chief scientist at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, is elated about the proposals. USU will be working to genetically engineer plants that will supply astronauts on the moon or Mars, he said. But some also expressed concerns about political support and funding. Patrick Wiggins, NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, said political support might evaporate as it did after Americans originally landed on the moon in 1969 and then into the early '70s. Still, he was excited about the prospect, commenting before the speech because he was headed out of town.

The president's election-year proposals did generate some criticism, including from members of Congress. Some Democrats point to the federal government's growing budget deficit, now at $500 billion, and say the administration should take care of problems at home before setting its sights on costly space initiatives. Some scientists, too, say it would be more efficient and less expensive to use robotic spacecraft instead of manned missions. Many others, however, seemed energized by Bush's initiative, the highlights of which include:

  • Getting the space shuttles flying again as soon as safe — the shuttles have been grounded since the Challenger disaster on Feb. 1, 2002 — then retire the fleet by 2010.
  • Completing the International Space Station by 2010.
  • Developing a new "crew exploration vehicle" by 2008, with manned flights by 2014. It would replace the shuttle and also serve to ferry astronauts to the moon.
  • Returning humans to the moon possibly as soon as 2015 and no later than 2020; setting up a long-term base there.
  • Using lunar experiences to ready the country for trips to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system.

President Bush is all smiles as he talks with NASA astronaut Commander Michael Foale, left, of Cambridge, England, who's aboard the International Space Station.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

He also vowed continued support for the International Space Station. "We will complete what we have started," he said. "We will meet our obligations to our 15 international partners on this project. We will focus our future research aboard this station on the long-term effects of space travel on human biology."

The crew exploration vehicle will be capable of taking astronauts and cargo to the space station, but its main purpose "will be to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds." "This will be the first spacecraft of its kind since the Apollo command module," which took astronauts to the moon, the president said. "With the experience and knowledge obtained on the moon, we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration — human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond," Bush said. The speech was carried live on the Internet and summarized by the White House Web site.

At Thiokol the company effort is going toward readying the shuttle for return to space, DeGuibert said. Then ATK Thiokol will work on flights to complete the space station. Beyond that, she expressed confidence that the company would remain involved in spaceflight. "We're well positioned to work with NASA with whatever design of propulsion technology they may require," DeGuibert said. "Once you get on a planetary surface, where you've got a little bit of gravity to help you and you can spread out a little, now you can go back to farming," Bingham said.

"I think that it was a fine speech, and I think that what it's going to take to actually implement this plan is a good sell to the American public," said Mike Murray, production manager for Clark Planetarium. "It has to go way beyond politics," he said.

Jim Stitley, West Jordan, noted he has heard the new program will require giving up the space station and the Hubble space telescope. He said in an e-mail that he is "VERY disappointed" with those plans. "I cannot see how we could walk away from such far-reaching and broad scientific programs," Stitley said. "I think Bush's interest in the moon is simply another military center and base. How sad!" "Mankind made a giant step over three decades ago, but since that time, in my opinion, the manned space program has wandered around rather aimlessly," said Hyde Park resident Dale Hooper. "Finally, we now have some specific long-term direction for human spaceflight with mileposts along the way."

© 2004 Deseret News Publishing Company