Space... The Funding Frontier
First there was the International Space Station, which was going to be a shining city in the sky with at least 9 astronauts on board at all times, doing fabulous science experiments and research. Unfortunatly, NASA failed to turn people on to the I.S.S. Maybe they should have brought up Queer eye for the astroguy. Funding, predictably, lagged. So the I.S.S. has been down-sized to a three person crew that has pretty much given up on science to dedicate their time to patching holes, and trying not to starve to death or eat each other.
Now Bush is showing "vision" by claiming he wants NASA to put up a lunar base and send men to Mars. (Send all the men to Mars! Except me. I will stay here. Have fun up there. The ladies and I will get by without you.) Funding things like the space station or repairing Hubble may bring back science but science doesn't plant flags on alien worlds. (Well it does but it doesn't get the credit so screw science) Of course, neither will Bush's vision because he knows that a three month Martian camping trip and a lunar hunting lodge will not make it through the decades of administration changes and budgetary brew-haw-haws that it will take to make either of these goals a reality. He can afford to make a lot of promises that the next guy will have to cancel. He knows that the pendulum will swing again and the Dems will be the ones that have to ax these "lets go everywhere at once" pipe dreams. The Republicans can then point and say "hey the Democrats are anti-science too!" Clever little putz.
If G.W.B. had committed only to a permanent moon base he would have stood a chance of making an ongoing historical contribution to humanity's presence in space. If he had only committed to a Mars mission he would have at least looked as if he had made an historic one time contribution. As it is he has decided to commit money (and not much of it) to splitting NASA's attention and distracting it from what it would be doing otherwise; fixing Hubble, research into the science and technology of weightlessness on a properly constructed space station, possibly finding industrial applications for weightless environments that would cause private enterprise to get involved... you know, productive things. Sciencey things. Things that don't get shown on end-of-the-decade new year's eve specials.
While I love the idea of manned space flight and humans expanding beyond Earth, I don't see Bush's plan as an actual plan. It is more of a cool daydream. If you want to hit the moon, don't aim for Mars. If you want science done at NASA, let the scientists and engineers in on some of the decision making. But then, no one ever said science had to be about anything other than politics. Certainly not in this administration.