Advocates have argued that the moon could be useful in many other ways, as a base for developing technologies, for astronomical observations and for human rehearsals for operating in space. One person consulted by the White House said officials think a renewed push into space would fuel the manufacturing and technology sectors of the economy.
Bush aides and advisers said that separately from his space plans, he is also looking for ideas for next month's State of the Union address that would not rely solely on the government but would also rally business, volunteers and other parts of society.
The Department of Heath and Human Services is developing a proposal that would funnel billions of dollars over at least a decade into relatively noncontroversial research into cures for cancer and other diseases. A GOP official said this effort could be "the Republican equivalent of the War on Poverty."
A senior administration official said policy experts have also researched possibilites for universal health insurance for children. The official said the administration has also been "going to considerable effort to see how much it would cost to attack child hunger and quote, unquote end child hunger."
Political calculations are involved, according to Republican sources. One presidential adviser pointed out that a major anti-disease initiative would be popular with baby boomers. One quality the proposals have in common is that they are not obviously divisive.
On the other hand, the White House will be constrained by the growing budget deficit, which is projected to approach $500 billion in the current fiscal year.
The plans reflect a consistent strain in Bush's rhetoric, going back to his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, when he promised to use "good times for great goals." In fundraising speeches for his reelection campaign, Bush says he wants to pursue "great goals worthy of a great nation."
Staff writer Rick Weiss contributed to this report.