I hate to sound like a left-wing defeatist, but George W. Bush’s reported plan to establish a human settlement on the moon, as a prelude to human exploration of Mars, has me worried. The objection from the left is that an expedition to Mars will take money away from welfare programs. Ah, if only that were true. My problem is that an expedition to Mars will be a welfare program.
In the cover story for the current issue of The Weekly Standard, pro-Mars Charles Krauthammer argues that we once had a space program in the 1950s and 1960s that sent a man to the moon, but then we lost interest in all those Apollo flights and giant steps for mankind. As Krauthammer wittily observes, we now spend our vastly reduced space dollars having Shannon Lucas spend “six months in an orbiting phone booth with a couple of guys named Yuri.” Krauthammer argues that we should beef up the space budget and go for the moon base, which would “begin the ultimate adventure: the colonization of other worlds.”
The ultimate adventure will cost a lot of money ($400 billion was the figure NASA gave George H.W. Bush when he contemplated a similar program in 1989), but the cost isn’t the nub of the issue. We live in a different society from that of the 1950s and 1960s. We can’t just send a man to the moon. We also have to send a woman to the moon, a senior citizen to the moon, a teacher to the moon, a black lesbian with a disability to the moon.
As for Mars, it’s not only an airless and lifeless mega-desert, but it’s freezing. On a good day in the Martian midsummer (and there aren’t many), it gets up to maybe 32 Farenheit–not much to look forward to after spending six months on a spaceship just getting there. I said to my husband: “Gee, they can’t get anyone to live in North Dakota these days. How will they get anyone to live on Mars?” “They will if they pay them enough,” said my husband.
That’s the problem. Bush just added an estimated $400 billion to the federal budget over the next 10 years with his vote-buying Medicare drug program–so do we really need to double that by another $400 billion, much of which will go to the strictly earth-bound bureaucracy that a swollen-up space program will entail? Colonizing Mars may indeed be the ultimate adventure, but unfortunately, I see those colonies as expanded versions of suburban-Las Vegas high desert trailer parks with parka-clad residents inside watching plasma TV (beamed somehow from Earth) and collecting large checks. Hmm, maybe we could send our some of our current welfare recipients to Mars.