Remember When George W. Bush Wanted to Send People to the Moon Again by 2020?

That probably won’t happen.

President George W. Bush delivered a major address on U.S. space programs on Jan. 14, 2004 at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Marina Koren
Jan. 14, 2014, 10:51 a.m.

Amer­ic­ans have not set foot on the moon’s sur­face since 1972. Dur­ing his pres­id­ency, George W. Bush wanted to change that.

“We do not know where this jour­ney will end, yet we know this: Hu­man be­ings are headed in­to the cos­mos,” Bush said dur­ing a speech at NASA headquar­ters on Jan. 14, 2004, in Wash­ing­ton. “Man­kind is drawn to the heav­ens for the same reas­on we were once drawn in­to un­known lands and across the open sea. We choose to ex­plore space be­cause do­ing so im­proves our lives and lifts our na­tion­al spir­it.”

Spe­cific­ally, man­kind is drawn to the moon, Bush said. He pro­posed spend­ing $12 bil­lion over five years to build a space­craft that would re­turn hu­mans to the moon by 2020. “Es­tab­lish­ing an ex­ten­ded hu­man pres­ence on the moon could vastly re­duce the cost of fur­ther space ex­plor­a­tion, mak­ing pos­sible ever more am­bi­tious mis­sions,” he said, such as send­ing hu­mans to Mars for the first time.

The 10-year an­niversary of Bush’s am­bi­tious plans comes dur­ing a bleak time for U.S. space ex­plor­a­tion.

The Space Shuttle pro­gram was dis­mantled in 2011, ex­tin­guish­ing hopes for send­ing Amer­ic­an as­tro­nauts to space without col­lab­or­a­tion with in­ter­na­tion­al space agen­cies. This year’s pro­posed budget for NASA, out­lined in an ap­pro­pri­ations bill Monday night, was a slim $17.6 bil­lion, just $2 bil­lion more than it was in 2004. Al­though the budget in­cludes money for as­ter­oid de­tec­tion, it shrinks fund­ing for a plan­et­ary sci­ence pro­gram that cre­ates and over­sees mis­sions to out­er plan­ets and moons.

The situ­ation is not all bad, however. Last week, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion gran­ted the In­ter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion a four-year ex­ten­sion, prom­ising to keep the labor­at­ory or­bit­ing Earth un­til 2024. The move has strong bi­par­tis­an sup­port in Con­gress, and with people who gen­er­ally do not want to see the 16-year-old sta­tion plum­met to the bot­tom of the Pa­cific Ocean.

Private com­pan­ies are cur­rently work­ing to send com­mer­cial space­craft to the moon, some by as early as next year. But sus­tain­ing hu­man life in zero grav­ity for pro­longed peri­ods of time is a baby sci­ence, so people won’t come aboard just yet. For now, and likely for the next few years, the only liv­ing things headed to the moon are basil and turnips.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle in­cor­rectly re­por­ted NASA’s 2004 budget. It was $15.47 bil­lion.

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