This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, Jan. 9, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIAN WILSON, GUEST-HOST: A settlement on the moon; such a notion may have been science fiction at one time. But now it's a goal of the president of the United States, who believes it could be a stop on the way to landing humans on Mars.

Alan Ladwiq is the CEO of Zero Gravity (search), a space entertainment and tourism company. And he's the former associate administrator for policy and plans at NASA (search).

Thanks for joining us. I appreciate it.


WILSON: I want to ask you a couple of things. First of all, does it make sense to go back to the moon? Because the first thing you hear from a lot of people when you say the president wants to go back to the moon is, yes, we have already been there. We have already done that.

LADWIG: Right. Well, and any time you open a frontier, you can go back to a place that you have been to before. Certainly when we went west, we went back to the Midwest more than a couple times. So you shouldn't look at the moon as some kind of a cosmic ghetto that we don't want to go back to. There are still a lot of interesting things to do there, a lot to learn. There are some reasons to go back for national security, for science advancement.

WILSON: Well, let's talk about national security first. What are the national security reasons to go back to the moon? Is this driven by the fact that the Chinese now have a very, aggressive program?

LADWIG: I think that's going to be part of it. Surely, you don't want to see an area that we pioneered, that we were there first, to have us take a back seat to. That we would give up the leadership that we started. And I think a lot of people would look poorly on the fact that we let another nation go in and take over that area.

WILSON: Well, what do you do on the moon that has a national security implication?

LADWIG: Well, there could be some things related to the Defense Department that I'm not really familiar with. And certainly wouldn't even begin to say that they are seriously looking at it. I think it is more from the concept of economic security. The aerospace program is the leading export industry in this country; it's a $40 billion positive balance of payment. It has been that way for years but it is slipping. And that's going down because we haven't been making the investments in space. We have been letting other countries take over the launch areas, satellites, and what have you. And I don't think we should give that up here.

WILSON: All right. Now, the scientific side of it. Why would you go back to the moon for scientific reasons? What are the reasons that we need to go back when we have already done a lot of scientific experiments there?

LADWIG: You can get 10 scientists in a room and five will say it's a great thing to go back. And the other five will say forget it; let's go somewhere else. Those people, that I've talked to, who think it is a good idea believe you ought to find out more about is there water ice there at the poles of the moon? There is the largest impact crater on the far side of the moon -- the largest impact crater in the solar system on the far side of the moon that can help tell you about planetary geology, about dating things that have happened in the universe.

WILSON: So there is still stuff you don't know?

LADWIG: Right. And you could perhaps have it as a base for a telescope. It's a very stable place. It would be away from the atmospheric interventions from earth. So there is a whole lot of things you could do.

WILSON: A permanent base?

LADWIG: At a permanent base. The problem with space is we treat it as though -- you know, we try to narrow it down to doing only one or two things. The capabilities that we have now in space, 40 years after the space program began, is incredible in the areas of earth science, aeronautics, biology, robotic science. And instead of fighting to narrow it all down to one goal, which I think limits the vision; we ought to be looking at a larger vision.

WILSON: All right. So you go back. You establish a permanent base. You're talking about quite an expenditure of money. The last time this was talked about, NASA came back with some numbers that kind of scared everybody away.

LADWIG: Well, I was at NASA at the time. And those numbers were never fully scrubbed. They never really laid out a specific program. That initiative was developed fully within the White House without a lot of NASA participation in advance. Then they were given 90 days to kind of come up with an answer to how would you do all this stuff? That's not the way you want to do that.

I think this time it sounds like they have learned from the past and they are going to lay out a program, hopefully that's affordable. They do want to increase NASA's budget by 5 percent over the next five years. And that isn't so bad; 75 percent of America's public believe NASA's budget should remain the same or be increased. And don't forget that during the entire '90s, NASA's budget was cut every year, and really didn't even keep track with inflation. So it's NASA's turn.

WILSON: All right. So, let's say we make a national decision we're going to the moon; we decide we're going to fund. We go to the moon. Is that the step -- a logical first step toward Mars?

LADWIG: I think so. Again, you will get a lot of argument on that. But we have never been on a planetary body for long periods of time. During the moon missions, we were there for very short duration. If you're going to go to Mars, you need to stay at least 30 days if you went on a sprint mission, or potentially as many -- as long as a year and a half to two years. So before you can commit humans to that kind of a risk, surely you want to understand how to live and work on that planet other than earth.

WILSON: Some people say the scientific hurdles that must be overcome about going to Mars are phenomenal, the key among them, the issue of radiation.

LADWIG: Sure. And that's an issue we need to understand more before you go and make that commitment. But that doesn't mean you want to go out and meet that challenge.

WILSON: Why not send robots? I mean we have got a robot on the planet Mars now doing very -- going to do some very successful work, going to rove around, going to take samples. It's a lot cheaper to send robots. What do we really gain by having a human being there?

LADWIG: It's the extension of the human spirit. It's part of our culture. It's part of heart of humanity as always wanting to press frontiers, always wanting to go forward. It does say something to the human spirit. Yes, we need robotics, just as robots precursored Apollo flights, we're going to have that at Mars. You need to do both. It depends on what is it you are trying to get out of the mission.

WILSON: How serious do you think is the Bush administration about this? Is this just about politics and having goals, sounding good? Or is it a serious commitment?

LADWIG: I hope it's a serious commitment. Certainly after the accident last year, Congress was saying we needed a vision, we needed a vision focus. So let's hope this isn't just a political stunt.

WILSON: Thank you so much. Appreciate you being here.

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