Mars exploration will create budget deficit

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    Long before I wanted to go into journalism, I wanted to be an astronaut.

    Of course, I was 9 years old, wore thick, blue-rimmed glasses — Why didn’t you pick a better pair, mother? — and watched Star Trek religiously. I was drawn to the romance of exploring new worlds and “boldly going where no man has gone before,” and I really wanted to experience zero gravity.

    As I got older, I grew out of those dreams, and got bored with science fiction altogether. Light asthma helped suck the air out of those boyish dreams, but I also decided the work involved in becoming an astronaut is more trouble than it’s worth.

    The same could be said for President Bush’s plan to send men to Mars within a generation: As romantic and inspiring as such a voyage would be, we can’t afford it. It would suck the life out of the federal budget.

    The Bush space plan — a better name would be the Bush re-election plan — is another classic Karl Rove bait and switch. The president promises us the moon — literally — while saddling the next president with the costs of such a lofty mission.

    Bush proposes shifting $11 billion in NASA’s five-year budget and adding another $1 billion in new funding as a down payment for the mission. The plan is sure to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Papa Bush proposed a Mars mission in 1989, which crashed and burned in Congress after cost estimates hit $400 billion, or $600 billion in today’s dollars.

    To put that in perspective, that’s the cost of 800 new Hoover Dams, as Gregg Easterbrook noted in Time magazine.

    Costs for the plan will explode at the very same time the baby boomer generation will be on Medicare and drawing Social Security checks. Combine that with the reckless Bush tax cuts, and the federal government will be hemorrhaging with red ink.

    The allocations will come at the cost of useful programs now, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, which will be allowed to rot and become useless. Instruments valued at $200 million that were to be added to the telescope will remain on earth.

    Supporters of a Mars mission will no doubt claim that opponents of the plan are shortsighted. They say human exploration of the universe can bring unknown benefits.

    But taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill to feed this curiosity. When you weigh space exploration against balancing the budget, improving education and health care, strengthening our economy and reducing poverty, the argument falls apart.

    Exploring space is undoubtedly romantic. But so is solving problems here on earth.

    Editor in Chief Brandon Ortiz is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.