(Host) President Bush made no mention of Mars in his State of the Union address. For commentator Philip Baruth, this was an intergalactic paradox.
(Baruth) In the run-up to his State of the Union address, George W. Bush proposed something truly incredible: that the United States of America send astronauts to Mars. First, we would use robot landers to explore the moon; these robots would build supply caches for the humans arriving later. Then, within twenty years, we build a permanent base on the moon. If it turns out that there’s water on the moon, astronauts use it to create enough oxygen-hydrogen fuel to get to Mars. If not, then we design and build something called an electric-ion rocket. If it all goes according to plan, and I don’t know why it wouldn’t, we’re on the surface of the Red Planet by 2030, and then, according to President Bush, then we’re ready to *really* go exploring the universe.
Man. I *love* this plan. Robots, electric-ion rockets, men on Mars by the time I’m sixty-five this is the kind of stuff I grew up on. You have to understand, when I was in fourth grade my friends and I wore actual Star Trek tunics to elementary school and communicators. So if George W. Bush wanted to get a little bit starry-eyed, I was right there with him.
Sure, there were a couple of niggling concerns:
1) Most of the money for the robots and the electric-ion stuff would come from quietly scrapping the space shuttle and international space station programs. I love the space shuttle. I love the international space station. So that hurt.
2) And then there’s that suspicious voice in my head that said when George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld talk about a permanent base on the moon, they probably mean something different from what I might mean by either permanent or base.
3) And finally, the suspicious voice said, Look don’t be a sap. Clinton had his Bridge to the Twenty-first Century to suggest pluck and optimism, and now Bush has Mars, and after the election it’ll be business as usual.
But I didn’t listen to that voice, because I grew up on *Battlestar Galactica* and if it took a George Bush to lead the human race out of the solar system, I was going. So I tuned in to the State of the Union address just for that, just to hear the roll-out of this weird funky dream that happened to coincide with my own. And you know what? Bush never mentioned it. Nothing. Not a word. You’d think if you were going to lead the human race out of the solar system, you’d mention it. Apparently the idea tanked in the polls, and even Republicans in Congress weren’t excited about pouring money into Mars when we haven’t finished pouring money into Iraq or into servicing the half-trillion-dollar deficit.
And so I felt bad when the address was over, but not just for me. I was thinking about those scientists from NASA, the guys for whom failure is not an option. And I was thinking about how they get beat up for spending too much money, and then when something goes horribly wrong they get beat up for cutting corners. And even under all that pressure, they’ve got not one but two robots on Mars even as we speak. I was thinking that NASA is the disrespected wife of the Federal Bureaucracy hugged in public and mistreated in private and that when I was growing up that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington, who teaches at the University of Vermont. His latest novel is “The X President.”