Under Dubya’s vision for space, the U.S. was going to to go to the Moon again then eventually get to Mars. Allow me to illustrate how this was going to go.
You can’t just have a vision. You have to have a way of achieving that vision. In the U.S. space program, that method is NASA. When NASA is starved of cash it doesn’t achieve all of its goals. When it is bathing in cash it is much better at achievement.
Just take a look at Wikipedia’s NASA Budget site and you can see that NASA needed much more money while developing the technologies to make it to the Moon.
A similar boost is needed and probably for longer to make it to Mars as a manned mission. Dubya didn’t give NASA enough more to have the breakthroughs a Mars mission might need. In fact NASA funding remained low under Dubya even after the “vision” was presented. This is the first point in why I think the Moon was going to end up the final destination under Dubya’s vision.
The second reason happened only months ago. The LCROSS mission found evidence of water inside a crater at the Moon’s south pole. If you don’t have to transport water to the Moon, this lends support to the idea that it’s a good place to put a base on.
The third reason the Moon could become the new Mars and thus be the end destination of Dubya’s vision is occurring on the International Space Station. They are recycling the astronauts’ water. Yuk! Let me repeat, they are recycling the astronaut’s water. Thus, the little water that may be found on the Moon could go a long, long way. A Moon Base’s worth, maybe.
The fourth reason is possible life on Mars. Dubya and his successors would have given as a reason for not making it to Mars, that they were taking the moral high ground. That is, they would say that they do not want to contaminate any possible life on Mars by sending billions of microbes there along with their human hosts. That’s right, I’m saying that Dubya’s successors might take a note of ethical superiority.
Under Obama, the U.S. Does not have a rocket to space and thus, once the space shuttle missions have stopped, the U.S. has to rely on other nations to make it to space. This could go on for a while.
Rather than rush to make a Moon capable rocket, Obama is going to take longer to get a more powerful rocket to get to Mars and some asteroids. In a time of budget freeze in all other endeavours, Obama has increased NASA’s budget by 6 billion dollars over 5 years. Notice that this breaks the first point of Dubya’s destination, so it is quite possible that Obama might get his vision done by the 2030′s where it is said to pay off.
That leaves everyone else to try for the Moon like Dubya was going to do. And the Moon has no shortage of potential suitors like China, India, Russia, Europe and Japan who have each sent a probe to at least orbit the Moon. And this time, if an Obama descended program reaches Mars, these countries will say “tsk, tsk, endangering all those potential Martian microbes.” The U.S. will have new bragging rights and the rest of the world will take the moral high ground.
Being part of that rest of the world (Canada), I don’t think the height of that moral high ground is very high. All I can think of is that ’70s science fiction story that had “equal rights for germs” taking over society. Bathing became illegal because it caused the death of many microbes. [If anyone can find a trace of this story on the internet, I'd like to see it. I thought it was indeed entitled “Equal Rights for Germs” but found nothing under that search. I also think it was published in Analog because some of those magazines were kicking around the house while I was growing up.]