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Buckner hopeful about Bush's plans for NASA

Although some have criticized President George W. Bushs proposed plan to spend $12 billion to shift the focus of NASA, Dr. Spencer Buckner, associate professor of physics and astronomy at Austin Peay State University, believes it will establish a new spirit of purpose as the organization strives to create of a new manned space vehicle, plans a return to the moon and prepares for the human journey to Mars.
Although some have criticized President George W. Bush's proposed plan to spend $12 billion to shift the focus of NASA, Dr. Spencer Buckner, associate professor of physics and astronomy at Austin Peay State University, believes it will establish a “new spirit of purpose” as the organization strives to create of a new manned space vehicle, plans a return to the moon and prepares for the human journey to Mars.

“For the last 20-plus years, NASA has had the construction of the International Space Station (ISS) as its primary goal for humans in space,” Buckner says. “While this is certainly a useful goal, it is not as inspiring as the one JFK set for NASA in 1961: to go to the moon in less than a decade. The agency has not had a soul-stirring purpose since the last Apollo moon landing in 1972.

“Bush's new plan for NASA gives it a place to go and a new spirit of exploration that it hasn't had for over 30 years. It will re-energize the people of NASA and bring in new people with new ideas and dreams.”

Buckner predicts there will be more money available for research, “especially in propulsion and spacecraft design, but also in medicine and robotics.” He also expects the space-plane concept of space vehicles to go by the wayside as the new Crew Exploration Vehicles gain in popularity.

“I suspect there will be more emphasis on roving robots, like the Mars Rover currently sending back spectacular images and data from Mars,” he says. “And obviously there will be a new emphasis on lunar exploration, both robotic and manned.”

Buckner believes the shuttle program will be retired once the International Space Station is finished. However, he sees another international project on the horizon: the journey back to the moon.

“While Bush only proposed $1 billion in new funding for NASA, in the long run it will cost many billions of dollars to get back to the moon,” he says. “Some of it must come from international partners, and Russia and the Europeans have already expressed interest and enthusiasm for the idea of going back to the moon.

“Only time will tell if we may see people regularly walking on the moon by 2020. Personally, I am hopeful and excited about the prospects.”
—Rebecca Mackey