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Mars: The Red Herring - Er, Planet
10 February 2004

On Friday, Feb. 6th, USA Today ran a full-page ad that featured that famous image of earth from space as we first saw her from Apollo with the caption, "We Are Drawn to the Heavens." For a moment there I was a teenager again, watching images flow from space to my snowy TV screen, hot tears splashing down the front of my tie-dye. The ad was funded by Alliant Techsystems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, the National Space Satellite Aliance, the Space Foundation, and the United Space Alliance. Beneath the photo was a quotation: " We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives, and lifts our national spirit." These noble words were attributed to our own President George W. Bush. I felt like I had been bitch-slapped. How dare you, I thought, how dare you invade my dreams?

Before things started on the present downward spiral, my eldest daughter and I talked often about I and my cohort had thought and done and hoped for "back in the day." She was still in that "everything is possible" phase of life. As I told her about my feelings the night they landed on the moon, she mused, "well, every generation has something - you had the moon landing and Woodstock. But my generation has Mars and immortality." At the tender age of eighteen, she was working to free Mumia and sitting in old-growth trees, taking care of homelss people and living an ethic of love and generosity.

In the sixties, anything was possible. Most anything was still possible before about 1985. After September 2001 a great many things started to look improbable: global understanding, clear moral choices, peace. After the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the slipping pants of several industry magnates, the sneaky subversion of free speech and habeas corpus rights by the politics of fear, and the consolidation of Mogul Media enthusiastically endorsed by the FCC, many things that my teenage heart had once cherished started to look downright impossible. While tax cuts gang-raped education and public services to feed the Haliburtons at home, President Bush was busy obliterating fifty years of good will towards America in Europe and providing an all-too-real rationale for the growing hatred of our country in the Arab world.
And now he's putting out this Mars stuff. I thought the guy was just stupid - but this - this demonstrates that he or his handlers are far smarter than any of us thought. We who love the dream of space now have two obvious choices: to take candy from the bad man or to speak out against our own dreams. If forced, I would have to choose the latter. I've seen too many schools and health clinics close, too many lives and too much money wasted on a war based on a lie. I have too much distrust and too much disillusionment.

It's not as if Bush is the only bad guy in Washington. Our noble Congress seems inordinately obcessed with Pork while squeezing the life out of government. Government is supposed to be about schools and health, roads and bridges, exploration and care-taking and enabling the Pursuit of Happiness. The truly horrifying thing is that your average American would rather have an extra $30 to spend at Wal-Mart than pay it in taxes. Maybe it's because they, too, are deeply distrustful of how the government spends their tax dollars. Maybe it's because we all, no matter how down and out, still believe enough in that corny old American dream that we think we'll be rich someday and it's us who will be getting the really fat tax break and slamming bucks into our private retirement savings accounts and personal health insurance policies.
But back to Mars. Launching humanity into space. The Star Trek generation has trouble saying no to that. Those of us who see a destiny beyond the planet ache to boldly go. It's perhaps most painful to those who know we actually can to hear Bush's empty rhethoric. I guess you gotta hope that the average spacer is smarter than the average Republican. If Mr. Bush really believed in the promise of space he would not have abandoned the International space station to disintegrate to junk while making pronouncements about Man on Mars.

Mr. Bush's Mars promise, like all his others, won't be kept. It's bread and circuses, folks. Let's save our starry ideals for a government that can nobly deliver on them - for the government that can dig us out of this hole that's starting to look like a great big grave for a once-great nation. And before we run off to build McDonald's on the moon, let's figure out what it means to take care of a planet. Just a meaningful gesture in the right direction would do - the Kyoto treaty, for example.

Mr. Bush's cheap tricks won't trick those of us who really have a dream to squander it on false hopes on the promise of a government that doesn't tell the truth. If we're going to grow new dreams on Mars, let's do it right - with wisdom that can only come from good Gaian gardening.