On Wednesday, President Bush is expected to propose an ambitious plan to send astronauts back to the moon – and he appears to have about half the public on his side. The AP reports: “Asked whether they favored the United States expanding the space program the way Bush proposes, people were evenly split, with 48% favoring the idea and the same number opposing it.” Not surprisingly, visitors to the TechnologyReview.com Web site appear to be slightly more bullish on the idea than is the general public. As of late Tuesday afternoon, 52% of those responding to this week’s online poll say they want to “undertake an immediate, Apollo-scale crash program” to get back on the moon.” Only 19% agree with the statement, “there’s no compelling reason for such an expensive and risky mission.” (The remaining respondants chose the middle-of-the-road option: “stick to long-term research and feasibility studies, meanwhile finishing the International Space Station and developing a replacement for the space shuttle.”)
Bush’s speech will undoubtedly draw comparison to JFK’s famous send-a-man-to-the-moon address to Congress in 1961, which you can read here. One stirring passage from that speech made it into the history books, of course–the one committing the nation to “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Funny, but not too many people remember the next paragraph, in which JFK asks Congress for a total of about $30 million (equivalent to about $180 million in today’s money) to “accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself.” In 40 years, will Bush’s plan be remembered as the dawning of a glorious adventure like the Apollo mission or merely a technological dead end like nuclear rockets?