President Bush, charting a course for an American return to space exploration, Thursday challenged the nation to commit itself to a permanent manned presence in space and, in the next century, to send a manned spaceship to Mars.
Speaking on the 20th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, Bush said the Apollo astronauts "left more than flags and footprints on the moon. They also left some unfinished business."
Bush said the United States must begin a journey "back to the moon, back to the future, and this time, back to stay."
But, although Bush threw his support solidly behind a pending $30-billion program to launch a manned space station called Freedom, the President stopped short of advocating specific timetables or budgets for more distant space exploration targets.
Quayle to Work Out Details
Instead, Bush directed Vice President Dan Quayle, chairman of the National Space Council, to work out the details.
Bush's address, delivered on the steps of the Smithsonian Institution's Air and Space Museum, apparently helped head off a serious political defeat for the space program in Congress. Acting just hours later, the House rejected an attempt to strike $714 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's budget for the space station program.
The scuttled amendment, proposed during House debate on a 1990 appropriation bill, would have shifted the money to medical programs for veterans, pollution control efforts and housing assistance. The House Appropriations Committee already had cut $400 million from the $2 billion sought by the Bush Administration.
Complaints About Expense
But Bush's speech drew a cautious response from lawmakers, who complained that the space station alone has proven too expensive for a Congress already under intense fiscal pressure.
"Given the federal budget deficit and earthly demands, I don't see how we can afford expensive manned programs in space in the near future," said Rep. Bill Green (R-N.Y.), ranking Republican on the House subcommittee that funds NASA.
"People also dream of a home in the country or a trip around the world," Green said, "but like couples with big mortgages and kids in college, this country has bills to pay before taking costly adventures."
Speaking before the President, Michael Collins, the astronaut who commanded the Apollo spaceship 20 years ago while his fellow astronauts walked on the moon, defended the space program in the face of competing national priorities.
"We cannot launch our planetary probes from a springboard of poverty, discrimination or unrest," Collins said. "But neither can we wait until each and every terrestrial problem has been solved. Such logic 200 years ago would have prevented expansion westward of the Appalachian Mountains, for assuredly the Eastern Seaboard was beset by problems of great urgency then, as it is today."
NASA Administrator Richard H. Truly said his agency has devised no firm cost estimates for the more ambitious goals advocated by the President. But independent experts have said that an aggressive program designed to establish a permanent moon presence and to launch a manned Mars probe could cost $30 billion to $35 billion annually, almost doubling current expenditures.
"I don't know what the budgets will turn out to be, but I can assure you that they are very affordable, I believe, in the total context and over a long period of time," Truly said.
Truly said that earlier independent space commissions have called for such undertakings as the manned exploration of Mars and the establishment of a permanent research station on the moon.
"Until this morning, we really have not had a President who laid out in broad terms his view and his series of goals so that the Space Council and NASA can flesh them out," Truly said.
In advocating a return to the moon and an eventual mission to Mars, Bush appears to have seized the initiative from the Soviet Union. For years, those programs have been long-term goals of Soviet scientists and space officials, said Nicholas L. Johnson, an advisory scientist with Teledyne-Brown Engineering and an expert on the Soviet space program.
Bush said the nation's first space priority is the space station, which would be lofted into orbit in phases, beginning in 1995. He called the future spacecraft "a new bridge between the worlds and an investment in the growth, prosperity and technical superiority of our nation."
The President and NASA officials also emphasized the space station's role in researching earthly problems, such as global warming, also known as the greenhouse effect.
"The space station will also serve as a steppingstone to the most important planet in the solar system, Planet Earth," Bush said.