As the Barack Obama presidency inches ever closer to it long awaited but inevitable end, the president has been looking to his legacy in a series of op-ed pieces. The latest of these self-congratulatory articles highlight the Journey to Mars, NASA’s current program to send humans to the Red Planet and return them safely to the Earth.

The CNN piece has more chest thumping than might be warranted considering that, at the earliest, the first footprints on the Martian surface are 20 or so years away. People being born will be young adults in college at the earliest when the first videos are beamed across the interstellar gulfs to screens and VR headsets around the Earth.

By contrast, eight years passed between President John F. Kennedy declaring, “We choose to go to the moon!” and Neil Armstrong saying, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The president did not mention a number of what Al Gore might call inconvenient truths.

First, Obama did not plan to send any astronauts anywhere beyond low Earth orbit. His original idea was to cancel the Bush-era Constellation Space exploration program, which also had Mars as an ultimate goal, and replace them with five-year studies, a standard bureaucratic dodge when one wants to kill a program that others find popular.

Second, when forced to do space exploration by Congress, the president chose Mars but specifically ruled out going back to the moon as the Constellation program envisioned.

However, a number of studies, including one by MIT, have suggested that the moon is a necessary way station for Mars, as a venue for practicing surface operations and as a source of rocket fuel. The president and his people did not think things through.

Finally, he did not mention plans by companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin to go to Mars.

To be sure concerns remain about the financial and technical feasibility of such schemes, but they do represent an unutilized opportunity for a public/private partnership.

To sum up. President Obama has nothing to boast about where going to Mars is concerned. His program is underfunded, lacks direction and has not been very well thought through.

The Journey to Mars is the Obamacare of space.

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