Presidents Have Had Trouble Implementing Grand Designs for Outer Space

Roundup: Media's Take

William J. Broad, writing in the NYT about President Bush's space initiative (Jan. 14, 2004):

The troubles with grand White House plans [for outer space] began in January 1972 when President Richard M. Nixon proposed that the nation embark on a new kind of spaceship, reusable and known as the shuttle."It will take the astronomical costs out of astronautics," he said, promising that the vehicle would be highly reliable and its expense perhaps one-tenth that of expendable rockets. Instead, the shuttles turned out to be roughly 10 times as costly and prone to catastrophic failure.

In January 1984, President Ronald Reagan, evoking the spirit of President John F. Kennedy's rally to the Moon, proposed that the United States build a permanently manned space station within a decade. The cost estimate was $8 billion. In fact, the feat took 16 years and price estimates soared to between $30 billion and $100 billion.

In 1989, in a speech honoring the 20th anniversary of the initial lunar landing, the first President Bush proposed that the nation establish a base on the Moon and send an expedition to Mars to begin"the permanent settlement of space." He set the Mars goal for 2019 but the effort soon fizzled when the cost estimates hit $400 billion.

Yesterday, Mr. Bush said his new space mission could succeed with fairly modest increases: $1 billion in new money and $11 billion scavenged from existing NASA programs.

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