Tech vendors ready to follow Bush to Mars

Companies that supply technology for interplanetary missions are enthusiastic about the president's proposal to return to the moon and use it as a steppingstone to Mars.

'Anything that increases our ability to explore space and increase human knowledge is wonderful,' said Mike Deliman, professional services member of technical staff at Wind River Systems Inc. of Alameda, Calif.

Wind River supplied the operating system for the computer running on the Spirit rover now on Mars, as well as its twin Opportunity rover scheduled to land Jan. 24, the Stardust Spacecraft and the 1997 Pathfinder Martian Rover.

The projects demonstrated the difficulties of the ambitious goals set out in the president's proposal.

'None of it is going to be easy,' Deliman said. The robotic explorers have taken years of work and billions of dollars to get where they are. 'Those were not trivial tasks. A manned mission will require a scale-up of those requirements.'

Whether the resources will be committed remains to be seen. The president proposed scrapping the current International Space Station space shuttle programs, and by extension the Hubble Space Telescope, and redirecting resources to the new Lunar and Martian programs. An additional $1 billion would be added to NASA's budget over the next five years.

James Lewis, a senior fellow with Washington's Center for Strategic & International Studies, praised that decision, calling the shuttles and space station 'black holes for money' that have outlived their usefulness. But he warned that 'going to the moon and Mars is expensive and risky.' He predicted that competition in space exploration with China, Russia and the European Community could steel U.S. resolve to take the risk and make the investment.

But Christian Beckner, CSIS fellow and manager of its Human Space Exploration Initiative, said international cooperation, not competition, would be required to meet the president's goals.

'New financial resources will be hard to secure from Congress,' Beckner said, and reorganizing NASA would also be difficult.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee, praised the space proposal but stopped short of offering financial support.

'I look forward to working with the administration to understand more fully the costs of the new mission and its impact on the full array of NASA programs,' Boehlert said.

Deliman said he hopes Wind River will have a role in future interplanetary missions and not just for the money.

'Very few people get rich working for NASA,' he said. 'Each step of the program will create technologies that can be used on Earth. And anything that increases our knowledge of planetary evolution will increase our knowledge of how we fit in on Earth.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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