A commission studying President Bush's goal of sending astronauts to the Moon and Mars expressed confidence on Wednesday that it could develop a workable plan to do it, despite some doubts about financing. "We are not here to challenge or modify the plan, but to find ways for it to work," Edward C. Aldridge, chairman of the nine-member group, said at the commission's first public hearing. "It is highly unlikely that we would conclude at the end of this that it can't be done."
Norman Augustine, a retired Lockheed Martin chairman and the head of a commission that looked at the future of the space program 14 years ago, warned that financing could be a problem. "It would be a grave mistake to undertake the major new space objective on the cheap," he told the commission. "To do so, in my opinion, would be an invitation to disaster."
To start the new Moon-Mars program, Mr. Bush has proposed a $1 billion increase in NASA's budget spread over five years. This new money would be added to $11 billion taken from other NASA programs. Gen. Thomas Stafford, a former astronaut who has served on several committees studying NASA, said accomplishing the new objectives would require several technological advances, including developing nuclear rockets and power sources, and a new way of running the program, reports &to=http://www.nytimes.com' target=_blank>NYTaims
Children have dreamed of blasting off into space ever since the first moonwalk, and now a new generation of astronauts is looking to the stars, encouraged by President Bush's initiative to send man back up and on to Mars. While sitting on a space shuttle may seem more thrilling than sitting at a desk, before you quit to apply for a profession where brains, brawn and a fearless attitude are only the preliminary requirements, heed the advice of some in the business.
"It's a completely unreasonable goal, it's a shot in the dark," said Lt. Col. Tim Kopra. "The advice that most of us give to friends is you have to like what you're doing because the odds of it happening are extremely remote." But the odds didn't stop Kopra or the 102 other astronauts working today. "I wanted to become an astronaut because I was inspired as a 6-year-old watching men walk on the moon," said Kopra. "Every kid my age wanted to be an astronaut, the only difference between me and those other kids is I never gave up on it."
The appeal of becoming an astronaut is something many college students can't deny, Dr. John Olds, associate professor in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech, said. "We as Americans regard astronauts as American heroes. That kind of position and the opportunity to serve in that kind of role brings out the best in people, and everyone wants to be a hero," Olds said.
About one out of every three students Olds teaches say they want to be an astronaut, and he tries to encourage dreams while staying realistic. NASA receives around 3,000 applications about every two years, each time they hold a selection for a class, said Duane Ross, astronaut candidate selection manager.
Out of the thousands, 100 will be interviewed and around 10 will become astronauts. With so many unknowns about the program's future such as how many will fly aboard the vehicle that will replace the shuttle, the number of new applicants needed is always fluctuating, Ross explained.
The astronaut class of 2004 will report to the Johnson Space Center in August, earning a starting salary of approximately $80,000. Seventeen astronauts have died in three separate tragedies during the space program's history: The Apollo 1 spacecraft fire on the launch pad killed three in 1967, the Challenger launch explosion killed seven in 1986 and the Columbia shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry on Feb. 1, killing the seven on board.
But the risks don't damper the passion of those in the program or those with the dream.