The prospect of sending astronauts back to the moon and maybe on to Mars is stirring a mix of excitement and skepticism. "I'll believe it when I see it," said Nadine Barlow, a Mars specialist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
"We've heard these things before and they never pan out," she said yesterday.
Senior administration officials say President Bush is planning a permanent science base for astronauts on the moon and, more than a decade from now, human voyages to Mars. The White House has confirmed Bush will describe his ideas for long-term direction of the space program Wednesday.
Barlow said the biggest question among scientists is how Bush's proposals would be funded, because "that's what has driven the stake in the heart of the previous proposals to get humans to the moon and to Mars."
Barlow said she'll be convinced of the bold plan "when I actually see money being put into the program and people start working on it, and we actually have a schedule that we're driving for."
"I would be absolutely thrilled to see it happen, even if we just stop at the moon," she said.
But Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society, which advocates exploring other worlds, said the program shouldn't stop at the moon.
"Mars has to be the thing that pulls us, or drives us, to send humans outward," Friedman said.