February 27, 2013
(Inspiration Mars/Associated Press) Looks good, in theory!
Looks good, in theory! (Inspiration Mars/Associated Press)

Exciting news!

Inspired by NASA, the pioneering space tourist Dennis Tito is proposing a manned mission to fly past Mars. If you’ve ever dreamed of spending more than 500 days sealed in a capsule with a person of the opposite sex, in order to get pretty close, but not tooooo close to the Red Planet — congratulations! This is your lucky day! But I hope you have a billion dollars.

The Post’s article on the subject tersely notes that the mission does not appear to have the billion dollars necessary to get into what I have non-technically termed Mars-Waving-At range. What a surprise. I knew the private sector was trying to take up the slack in space, but I didn’t realize it was taking the imperative to Be NASA so, well, literally.

There are some aspects of NASA that are laudable and should be copied by the private sector — its dedication to spacecraft, its engineering expertise, that one guy’s innovative hairstyle. But copying its alarming lack of funding goes a little too far. NASA is planning a mission to Mars in the 2030s that The Post called “notional and unfunded.” Now we’ve got a space tourist who’s also making plans for a notional, unfunded Mars mission. Hooray, I guess? It is good that NASA has succeeded so well in delegating the critical elements of its spaceflight program to the private sector — namely, having to beg well-wishers for money, getting our hopes up and dashing them again and again.

This is the trouble with space these days. We have a lot of vivid space dreams in film, but — not so much in practice. If Box Office Mojo’s estimates are to be believed, the amount of money we spent on the Avengers movie is almost twice what we’re spending on support for human spaceflight operations. We used to shoot for the moon. Now we don’t even shoot for the low-earth orbit.

You’d think, with all the drunk-driver asteroids veering through space around us at all times, with all the meteors actually showing up to wreak havoc, with all the excitement we feel every time we gaze beyond the planet, that this would be something we’d agree was worth spending money on. But instead, even the Rogue Wealthy Space Tourists trying to get us excited for space travel have to do the Rogue Wealthy Space Tourist equivalent of starting Kickstarters for their projects, roving around with space helmet in hand from foundation to foundation.

Isn’t NASA enough? This is just depressing. 

Also, happy two-days-to-sequester!

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.