The U.S. government will fund NASA missions to the moon, Mars and beyond in coming decades, even though federal finances are constrained by daunting deficits, an industry leader predicted.
For multiple reasons, funds will be found to fulfill American dreams of going where no man has gone before, John Douglass, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association told sister publication Space & Missile Defense Report.
Douglass does not lightly dismiss the financial challenge, saying that funding for NASA will have to be increased by an order of magnitude to support those heavenly ambitions.
The price of space travel can be intimidating, but Douglass argued that the alternative, leaving space exploration to the Europeans, the Chinese or others would be untenable for Washington leaders and the American people.
As Americans "we do not want to cede the exploration of our solar system to other nations," Douglass said. "... America is going to remain a technological leader," he said.
Another salient point militating against any unilateral U.S. withdrawal from space exploration, he said, is that however large the cost of such missions might appear in dollar terms, they would be insignificant in comparison to the heft of the U.S. economy, the largest of any nation on the planet.
"In the grand scale of things," the costs of returning to the moon and then voyaging through interplanetary space would equal "a small amount of the American economy," Douglass said.
Some critics question whether money will be found each year to finance President George W. Bush's vision of missions to the moon, Mars and beyond, given that federal ledgers are stained with the red ink of $300 billion to $400 billion of deficit spending each year.
But Douglass notes that Washington nonetheless has found substantial sums of money when they are needed. "Where did all the money come from for the war in Iraq?" he said. Some estimates peg the bill for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at $300 billion and climbing.
In a similar vein, the government in recent years has supported costly programs to counter bird flu and to back recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he said.
"We'll find the money to do this [space exploration] as well," Douglass said.
The NASA budget request for the 2007 fiscal year is $16.8 billion. Douglass indicated that a full estimate of space programs funding might be $18 billion to $19 billion yearly. To finance the return to the moon and Mars, "NASA's funding will have to be substantially higher," Douglass said. To adequately fund missions beyond Earth would require "at least twice that, and some think more," he said.
The cost of a Mars mission would depend upon how it is executed and whether the United States would undertake the mission alone or recruit international partners.
But human spaceflight is "a program the people support," Douglass said, and in Congress, "there's bipartisan support [for space programs] on both sides of the aisle."