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It would be a great day if NASA had to have bake sales


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Kara Karlson
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By Kara Karlson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
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"One small step for man ..." Or one much larger step for man, if we actually manage to send people to Mars within the next few decades.

NASA is planning to build a space station on the moon. This will allow them to launch astronauts to Mars, purportedly by 2025.

Other than giving sci-fi enthusiasts the coolest thing since "Star Trek," NASA seems bent on spending money for spending's sake, or just because being the first people to Mars would be "cool," like Beavis and Butthead to seventh-grade boys.

There are arguments for why we should try to get to Mars.

Throughout the space race, there were huge advances in technology because the federal government funneled massive amounts of money for the endeavor.

This money would probably never have been invested in developing new technology had there not been a mission galvanizing the American people toward gluttonous fiscal irresponsibility.

It also allowed America to give itself a big pat on the back. Way to go - the commies might have gotten a chimp to space first, but we were the first to put a footprint on the lunar surface.

So suspended somewhere between a need to further prove superiority and true technological advancement is the real reason that Americans first managed to rocket into space.

And if we lived in a perfect world, where we had nothing better to spend our money on, then this endeavor would truly be great, if just to exhaust the human desire to explore.

But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world that is plagued with problems and we live in a country plagued with a national debt of roughly $7.9 trillion, or $7,918,009,471,434.33 exactly as of Thursday.

NASA is asking for over $16 billion for the 2006 fiscal year while the national debt only continues to climb, nearly doubling between 1995 and 2005.

Imagine the budget NASA will be asking for by 2012, the year they actually plan to send people to the moon to build the space station. Then think about the ridiculous amount they will be spending for the lunar station. Then the actual trip to Mars.

And while everyone is busy patting themselves on the back, and digging further into the government coffers, lusting after the red planet, it seems no one has really stopped to ask if we should.

When it comes to America, it is almost never a question of whether what is dreamt of will happen. Not with the richest country and the best minds to back the plan.

But even Bruce Mackenzie, one of the co-founders of 4Frontiers Corp., a new company that aims to develop a human settlement on Mars in roughly 20 years, has doubts as to whether or not a manned mission to Mars can be accomplished through a large bureaucracy like the federal government.

If companies such as Space Adventures Ltd. in Virginia can charge people $100 million for a flight over the far side of the moon, then a private venture to Mars is more than feasible.

4Frontiers Corp. has already accrued $25 million from unnamed private investors. This initial investment could be used to purchase a rocket, and charter commercial flights into the upper atmosphere or to the moon, making private-sector support of this monumental undertaking possible.

And if the market can't support the project, maybe that money is better spent elsewhere, at least for now.

As 4Frontiers is an American company, America would still receive the bulk of the credit for reaching Mars without putting us as a country further in debt to foreign entities.

Any gains in technology could be purchased from private companies for a fair market value instead of at the cost of billions of dollars for a mission that will either exceed anyone's wildest dreams, spending included, or end in failure.

More importantly, billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars could be spent reducing the national debt, or on intelligence spending to combat the war on terror.

As consumers, it is not wise to start saving for your dream vacation until high-interest rate credit cards and other debt are paid off. Why is the government not following the same good advice?

While contemplating how many new technologies might not be developed without this trip to the moon, and eventually Mars, ask how many future engineers and inventors NASA's budget could afford to send to a university.


Kara Karlson is a journalism senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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