Bad news for NASA might very well be good news for the nation. Compounding last year's Columbia shuttle disaster with the still-unresolved Mars Spirit rover malfunction, the question arises: Do the ends justify the means? Another question that could be asked: Whether or not successful, is the $820 million expenditure on the present Mars project best serving the needs of our nation?
It is in these times of crisis that our leadership needs to re-evaluate our priorities. The exciting goal of landing a man or woman on Mars in the next 15 or so years is both very romantic and politically titillating. One wonders if there might be more practical and achievable goals. A far more mundane goal would be to refocus NASA's expertise (with its normal funding) toward the development of alternative fuels. These new fuels would run our SUVs, heat our homes and power the nation's generators. Although mundane, might this be the more intelligent goal?
If NASA can land a robot and eventually a human on Mars, it is reasonable to presume that they have the know-how to develop the alternative fuels that would truly change the face and fate of the Earth. No longer having to depend on fossil fuel, the entire world and its politics would be affected. Worldwide environmental concerns would be minimized. This new direction for NASA would indeed better serve not only our nation but all nations.
President Bush indicated he would ask Congress to allot an increase of some billions of dollars to NASA for the journey to Mars. Would it not make better sense to divert these extra billions to other projects? More money is desperately needed for homeland security, health care, education and the infrastructure.
To suggest that diverting these billions to NASA's Mars program could solve the above problems would be nonsensical. This should remind us, and hopefully the nation's elected officials, that considering the limited successes of NASA's projects in the last decade, there may be more practical and noble goals to shoot for right here on Earth.
Gerald Schwartz of Amberley Village is an American Kennel Club judge and a contributing editor to Dog News magazine.
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