NASA’s moon to Mars mission is a go

While the program shouldn’t take from other scientific projects, Mars is an exciting goal.

President George W. Bush needed an avenue to convince science-minded people he is pro-science. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, R-Texas, delivered that avenue last month when he assured NASA its full budget request of $16.2 billion for use toward Bush’s proposed manned missions back to the moon and, eventually, Mars.

There was no debate on the matter, either. Congress was forced to include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s money or risk a presidential veto of the $338 billion omnibus bill. In effect, Congress is forking over $16 billion without having discussed the proposed programs’ merits and shortfalls, especially their impact on other science programs’ funding.

NASA, of course, couldn’t be happier. And overall, a new, exciting mission will be positive for the space program; the success of Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity jump-started an interest in the Red Planet that will drive NASA through the next several decades.

Hopefully, the manned mission to Mars will not be a detriment to other more fundamental aspects of space exploration, such as missions focused on astronomy, astrophysics and the origin of the universe. These programs must remain intact and receive adequate funding. A grandiose, sci-fi-esque mission will not do any good without good, basic science behind it.

In addition, while space programs keep the United States at the forefront of technology and scientific discovery, Congress must not blindly dole out whatever absurd sum of money the president deems necessary. NASA must remain funded to carry out its mission in a reasonable amount of time – the space race is over and hopefully the Mars mission will involve other countries’ space programs – but priorities at home on Earth should continue to be priorities, and space exploration is not the only form of science Bush must support.

A manned mission to Mars within the next several decades will have far-reaching impacts we have not even begun to dream of. It will rejuvenate the space program and get another generation excited about space travel and discovery beyond “Star Trek.” As long as the programs are thoughtfully and prudently funded, the next step into the final frontier will be well worth it.