When NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, the father of three nearly college-age children, announced his resignation last week, he gave a reason many parents could understand: He wants to make more money to pay college tuition.
"I owe (my children) the opportunity my parents provided for me to pursue higher education without the crushing burden of debt thereafter," O'Keefe wrote President Bush.
Someone ought to apply this logic to the internationalist agency our space program has become. NASA will cost taxpayers $16.2 billion in fiscal 2005, up $822 million from 2004. That is an astronomical sum, considering not only the less-than-stellar returns NASA has yielded Americans recently, but also this year's projected deficit of $348 billion (to be piled atop a $7.4 trillion national debt).
Were it not for this great expense -- and the risks run by astronauts -- you could laugh at what Russian officials have been saying about the crisis situation on the International Space Station (ISS), reputedly a joint project between the United States, Russia and 14 other countries, ranging from Brazil to France.
When NASA announced on Dec. 9 that there was a food shortage on the space station that required the station's crew of one Russian and one American to cut back on their food intake and might require the station to be evacuated if a Russian resupply rocket failed to complete a scheduled Christmas Day mission, the Russians initially denied it.
On Dec. 10, RIA-Novosti, Russia's state-run news agency, issued a report headlined: "Mission Control Centre Sees No Need of ISS Crew Emergency Return; No Food Problem Exists -- Blagov."
"I phoned the Americans yesterday, and we've agreed there'll be no talk of cutting the food ration," Russian space bureaucrat Victor Blagov said in the article. "The crew's menu is OK, and there's enough food in the ISS."
But that same day -- in an Associated Press story headlined, "Russian space agency: Space station crew could be forced to return to Earth if supply flight goes awry" -- Russian Space Agency Spokesman Vyacheslav Davidenko said: "I don't want to discuss this possibility, and I won't call it emergency evacuation. I'd rather call it termination of the international mission ahead of time."
So, where are our French partners when we need them? Why aren't they loading up rockets with Camembert to come to the aid of the space station?
The answer, of course, is the French are not truly our partners. They are free riders. And even though -- with the space shuttle grounded -- the Russians have the only rockets that can resupply the station, they, too, are subsidized participants.
When the Clinton administration signed a deal in 1993 to include the Russians in the station, Aerospace Daily reported that the program would bring Russia's "cash-strapped aerospace industry some $1 billion in U.S. funds over the life of the project."
Clintonites pitched the project as transnational jobs program. "Officials said it has the added benefit of helping forestall unemployment for workers at Russia's Baikonur space-launch site," reported The Washington Post.
The International Space Station is international socialism, and it exemplifies why many have fallen out of love with NASA.
NASA caught hold of the American heart with a space race. When President Kennedy called for Americans to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s -- before the Soviets -- he was appealing equally to our patriotic passions and individualistic virtues. The moon race was the perfect cross between a war and an Olympic competition. Men competed peacefully for their country. But they didn't compete for little medals. They competed for great national interests.
It's the stars and stripes of a free republic planted on the moon, not the hammer and sickle of an extinct, totalitarian empire.
In January, President Bush announced a bold plan to build a permanent base on the moon as a stepping-stone to Mars. But he didn't pitch it like Kennedy's moon shot. "The vision I outlined today is a journey, not a race," said Bush, "and I call on other nations to join us on this journey in a spirit of cooperation and friendship."
It cost $100 billion in today's dollars to put an American on the moon in 1969. How many U.S. tax dollars will it take to put a Russian on a moon base?
NASA outgoing director didn't believe his NASA job was worth the sacrifice his children might face if they incurred a great debt for college. How many taxpayers want their children to incur a great national debt to put an international station on the moon?