Mars wars: A case history of agenda -setting and alternative generation in the American space program
On 20 July 1989, the twentieth anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon, President George Bush announced a renewed commitment to human exploration of the solar system. Standing on the steps of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM), the president proposed a long-range plan that included the successful construction of an orbital space station, a permanent return to the Moon, and a human mission to Mars. Bush called on Vice President Dan Quayle to “lead the National Space Council in determining specifically what's needed for the next round of exploration…the necessary money, manpower, and material…the feasibility of international cooperation…and [to] develop realistic timetables [and] milestones along the way.” He charged the Space Council with providing the president with concrete recommendations for getting to the Moon, and ultimately Mars. This enterprise became known as the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). To provide overall focus for SEI, Bush later set a thirty-year goal for a landing on Mars. If met, humans would be walking on the red planet by 2019—the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Four years after President Bush's Kennedyesque announcement, however, the Clinton Administration killed the initiative, which had been in terminal condition for several years. The failure of SEI—combined with the Hubble Space Telescope's flawed mirror and problems with the Space Shuttle—badly damaged NASA's image and prompted dramatic changes in the American space program. There are differing views regarding why SEI was such a spectacular disappointment. Some believe that the initiative was doomed to failure from the beginning due to the faltering economy and the poor health of the space agency. Others contend that the Bush administration would never have been able to assemble a political coalition to support such an expensive undertaking within that political and economic environment. Still other experts, however, have argued that if the National Space Council and NASA had provided a more persuasive rationale for the program, it would have had a chance of being implemented. This case history seeks to explain the policy process that led to the ascension of SEI to the government agenda, yet very likely ensured its dramatic failure to win congressional approval. The ultimate goal is to provide a list of lessons learned that might be used by current and future policymakers.
0615: Political science