| March 4, 2004

This year's Super Bowl pre-game show was decidedly moonstruck. Standing beside jumpsuited NASA trainees on the 50-yard line, Josh Groban sang 'You Raise Me Up,' while an 'astronaut' planted an American flag atop an enormous model of the moon. The spectacle ostensibly marked the first anniversary of the Columbia disaster. However, to journalist Jon Mooallem, the display of moon fever had more to do with President Bush's recent speech, which stressed the necessity of America's return to outer space. Not only did the pre-game show reveal the peculiar link between recreation, competition, and space exploration; it demonstrated Bush's success at fostering a feel-good attitude toward future missions.

In his January 14 speech, Bush stated that it was crucial for Americans to return to outer space, specifically the moon and Mars. The tenor of his speech was poetic. After glossing over possibilities for industry (he vaguely states that the moon could be used as America's 'launching point for missions beyond'), and science ('we don't know yet what those breakthroughs will be'), Bush focused on the adventure itself, one that would 'test our limits to dream.' According to Mooallem, 'the president's grandiose description of his plan severs it from reality and leaves it floating in the vacuum of sheer possibility.'

In this vacuum, Bush carefully avoided touchy issues, like the cost and timeline for these missions. In contrast to President Kennedy's 1961 speech, which emphasized the economic sacrifice necessary to put a man on the moon in nine years, Bush's plan included a leisurely, ten-year goal for returning humans to the moon. No date was set for the Mars landing. Economic sacrifice was not mentioned by Bush, who asked Congress for a billion dollars without acknowledging where it would come from, or how it would be missed.

However, Mooallem argues that Bush's poetics are quite political. By divorcing space missions from practicality, he may be able to fashion a feel-good message in time for the election year.
-- Anastasia Masurat

Go there>>Moonstruck

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