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Going to Mars For the Expense Of Two Lunches

JEFFREY D. ROSENDHAL, special assistant for policy in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Exploration sees a need for national consensus on space policy. The following comments are excerpts from a recent interview. Can the United States manage a long-term space program?

That's probably the absolutely central question....

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We've made a long-term commitment to the interstate highway program.... We've made long-term commitments to defense institutions, such as NATO.... We've made a long-term commitment, in fact, to support of science....

I think the real question, in the case of the space program, is has the political system and the social system arrived at the conclusion ... that the enterprise will do enough for the country to make that kind of commitment.

Do you see that consensus forming?

I think the public hasn't really faced up to [the Bush initiatives]. We've certainly generated the enthusiasm of the people who are already committed. Congress hasn't really known quite what to do with it, either....

Is a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars the problem?

When you take any activity and you add up what the whole country is spending ... over a long period of time, you start to come up with very large numbers....

What does going to the Moon and Mars really cost? It winds up costing two [average] lunches a month. You may decide ``I'd rather spend my two lunches a month on something else.'' But the fact is it's within the scale of commitments the country has made to other things.

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What about people who can't afford lunch?

You've got to ask ... what does it do in terms of developing technology which spins off into the economy? What does it do in terms of attracting people's interest....

If you think that part of the solution to the country's economic problems is science and technology and that the only way you're going to wind up dealing with that problem is to attract more people into science and technology ... the question is [how to do it]....

I think that, in terms of ... attracting the talent that the country needs to enter the 21st century, the space program is likely to turn out to be very important.

And if you don't solve that problem ... you will find that you are going to have a lot more people who are going to be missing lunches.