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September 21, 2005
Original Article (French)
In presenting them with a round-trip ticket to the Moon for 2018, NASA offers a peculiar deal to the Americans. It proposes to weigh them down with a $104 billion budget, while the country is already burdened by expenditures for the Iraqi conflict and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, for the promise of an escape far from the current disasters. A dream to forget the nightmare. A new adventure which would have the sweetness of a fabulous memory: Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon on July 21, 1969.
This first conquest found its justification in the Cold War, when nothing seemed too expensive to outdistance, even symbolically, the Soviet enemy. Today, preyed upon by manifold torments, will the Americans and their top official representatives who vote on NASA's appropriations consider this new sacrifice necessary? The question is not only one for the leaders of the American space agency, it is addressed to George W. Bush, who is precisely the person who set up the road map for a return to the Moon followed by a human flight to Mars before 2030.
If the American president wants to repopularize the space adventure - which he has always supported - to help lessen his current setbacks, he will have to convince the American people that a new lunar mission is not simply an escape hatch for NASA to paper over its 30-year failure: the space shuttle. Too dangerous, too expensive, too complex, the space plane, which will be abandoned in 2010, has constrained manned space flight, and along with the International Space Station (ISS), is trapped in low earth orbit. This one [the ISS] never lived up to its industrial promises, nor does anyone dream it will.
The three-day trip to the Moon would be enough to draw Bush out of his doldrums, at the same time safeguarding the businesses and jobs active in this sector, because today, this is the principal reason of the conquest of space. For this, it will be necessary to demonstrate that the new mission does more than merely revisit the past, through the release of color versions of the black and white photographs of the Apollo pioneers. For now, the project presented resembles, in several important respects, a copy of the familiar designs of 1960-1970.
NASA thus will have to underline the differences to emphasize the originality of its new mission, and argue against those who regard returning to the Moon on the way to Mars a waste of time. By planning the construction of a base necessary for establishing a long-term human presence in space, the Americans seek to make our satellite [the Moon] the first essential milestone for future exploration - a place where man will master the many dangers of space, before risking more ambitious missions. Here is a more prudent dream, the initiators of which can hope to draw benefit in a not-too-remote future.