The Right Vision?

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto", January 14, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Sean O’Keefe, the NASA (search) administrator, is expected to be brief the media on what he thinks the NASA organization will make with that extra $1 billion it has been promised by the president over the next five years…

Who better to talk about this subject than John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, who went back a few decades later? The former senator joins us right now.

Senator Glenn, good to have you.

JOHN GLENN, FORMER ASTRONAUT: Thank you. Good to be with you.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you, senator, what do you make of the president’s plan, this idea of going to the moon, leaping from there to Mars? (search) What do you make of that?

GLENN: Well, it’s obviously a big, bold plan, and it’s much like the one his father had back in 1989, I believe. And I think that one proved to be very, very expensive when they costed it out.

He asked for a study at that time. And when the study came back, I think it was like $400 billion in 1989 dollars. And so I don’t know what this one will cost out to be.

I think the president’s proposal that we start with the $11 billion that NASA has right now just internally, and take it out of other programs, we didn’t hear any details on that. And I want to find out what that is.

I’m also very concerned that we not short-circuit the International Space Station, because that is where we are just building up now. If we can get that completed, that then gives us the best platform for doing basic research. It’s a benefit to everybody right here on Earth.

And that was sort of given a passing glance when the president made his speech. I’m interested in hearing that, because I think we have something like $30 or $40 billion invested in that right now, and it is just coming up to the point where we can complete it. Then we can get complete, start getting research returns to value everybody right here on Earth.

CAVUTO: Yes. But Senator, a lot of people are saying this value return is way off and that the cost of this, certainly way beyond the billion that the president has promised NASA over the next five years, and that this is really just a pipe dream. It was a pipe dream for his father when he proposed something like this in 1989, and it’s a pipe dream for the son.

What do you say?

GLENN: Well, the one I was talking about was the International Space Station.

CAVUTO: Right, absolutely.

GLENN: And I want to see that continue. Now, as far as the rest of it, going to the moon and onto Mars, that is going to be very expensive. And the president has not yet addressed how we’re going to pay for that.

He has said we’re going to start out just with the NASA reallocating $11 billion, plus another billion over five years, as I understood it. That won’t even do the paperwork on it.

CAVUTO: So why do it? Why do it, senator? Why make such a bold plan, and really give relative chump change to support it?

GLENN: Well, it is not sincere unless you put the money behind it.

CAVUTO: But what is your idea of money, serious money for this?

GLENN: Oh, I have no idea. I have not run any estimates on it. As I said, back in ‘89, the estimate was somewhere near $400 billion, and then I think that was cut back a little bit later on. Put it in current dollars, now, I suppose we’re approaching $700 to $800 billion now to do something like this.

I think at a time when we are running unprecedented deficits, I don’t know what Congress is likely to do. But I am mainly concerned we get the research return back from the station right now, and that will enable us to get public support to go on with some of these more grandiose plans that the president proposed today.

CAVUTO: But Senator, do we need men, or women, for that matter, to do it? I mean, we have obviously the ability to send satellites and vehicles and ships way beyond Earth, to land on Mars, to visit the moons of Jupiter, to go way beyond the solar system. Do you need men and women to do it?

CAVUTO: Well, I think whatever information we can get with robots, why we should do it. But then I think there comes a time when to get more information you need the human on the spot. It’s like if you had a laboratory here on Earth, and you said, OK, but we’re going to research here, but you can’t go into your laboratory, we’re going to do it all by robotics, I think most scientists would probably say that wasn’t being realistic.

Well, I think there comes a time when you have done all the exploring you can do with robotics. That’s the time for man to go. That’s the time for people to be out there on Mars. And I would like to see a Mars program sometime.

I think that it is a little more in the future, maybe, than we had indicated today. But I think it is good to plan like this. But I’m still concerned that we not lose support in all this, lose support for the International Space Station. It is just coming into fruition, and it is very valuable to everybody right here on Earth.

CAVUTO: You know, Senator, I’m sort of having like a ‘70’s flashback here. A lot of the things that we’re proposing to do now and that we’re seeing now, for example, even with this ship on Mars now, we had the Viking in 1976 doing essentially the same thing, not nearly with the sophistication of this vehicle. We’re looking at revisiting the moon; the last time we did that was 1972. And we had Sky Lab before the space station, and now looking at that. I’m wondering if we keep looking back more than we keep looking forward.

GLENN: Well, perhaps so. But I think the station is certainly looking forward. It hasn’t been completed yet. It’s about two-thirds complete. And we need to complete it over the next couple of years and get going again with it, get the full research up there.

We only have two people up there manning it right now. And what, it is built for six, possibly seven, but a normal crew of six. And we need the return the crew, return vehicles for emergency purposes, things like that. There is a lot of work yet to be done on the station, and I want to see us concentrate on that.

I hope in all the euphoria over these new proposals that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we have more to gain by getting information back off that station that benefits everybody here on Earth than anything else we could do right now.

CAVUTO: Senator, finally, on the president saying that the space shuttle program, just phase it out, mothball, move on to either what, as you say, new type orbiters, or the International Space Agency’s system we have up there now, what do you think of that?

GLENN: Well, the president predicated that by saying we’re going to develop a new crew exploration vehicle, which he called it, which supposedly is going to be able to go to the station and supply that after the shuttles are taken out. And that is a mighty fast development, if we can do that within the four years.

I think he wanted that by 2008, and we are at 2004 right now. That is a very fast development, if we can do that. And then he was going to phase out the shuttles by 2010. That’s presuming we don’t bend another one or have some problem that we are down to two.

It takes three shuttles right now to keep the station going the way we would like to see it going. And, the -- by the time we get out there to 2008 or so, if the new vehicle is not quite ready to go yet, not really ready to supply the station, then I would hope we could extend the shuttles beyond the time he indicated for retirement.

CAVUTO: All right. Senator John Glenn, always good having you, Sir. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

GLENN: Thank you.

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