I want to be more excited about the new agenda for space exploration than I am. My enthusiasm is undercut for obvious reasons: the crass political timing of the announcement, and the fact that Bush deferred all the real funding challenges to his successors. Like all grand schemes, it’s as likely that it will fizzle as that it will get off the ground. But I hope it happens. I hope we make a moon base, and eventually get people to Mars. Not just because it will inspire the kiddies to study math and science, but because it will inspire _us_ — it will give the country a unified goal to work toward, or at least to watch eagerly. We live in a bifurcated society, the hope of a post-9/11 movement toward national unity long-since lost. We could do with a big goal to bring us together. While the funding of it might get politicized, the goal itself — sending men and women to the stars — remains refreshingly aloof from partisan debate.

If you had asked me twenty years ago — or any of us, for that matter — how far Out There humanity would reach by 2004, we’d have assumed a Mars base and some asteroid mining projects, _at least_. We’d have been bitterly disappointed to learn how little would actually be accomplished in that time. We’ve been spinning our wheels for too long. The expectations of the popular imagination might have been optimistic, but they weren’t unrealistic. It’s high time we sought to put ourselves where we should already be.