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EDITORIAL: The wrong frontier

"Spacethe final frontier." When TV actor William Shatner first spoke those words in the 1960s, they had special meaning.

"Spacethe final frontier."

When TV actor William Shatner first spoke those words in the 1960s, they had special meaning. Humanity was striving for the stars, aiming for the moon - and television showed us the utopian future space could bring to a world that lived in the near-constant fear of destruction.

Now, U.S. President George W. Bush appears to want to rekindle the excitement the world felt as it first reached for the stars.People around the world have been transfixed by the images of our neighbouring planet Mars, brought to us by the Spirit Rover expedition.

Taking advantage of the made-for-TV moment, President Bush has announced his country's intent to pursue the next big space goal - manned interplanetary travel.

But in pledging billions of dollars to the cause of returning to the moon, this time as a launching pad for a manned expedition to Mars, is he looking to the wrong frontier?

We think so.

The idea of exploration, the insatiable quest to see what's beyond the horizon, is an innate part of man. It's what opened up the New World that we now inhabit - for better and for worse. It's taken us to the depths of the ocean and as far as the moon.

But in reality, the unknowable is right in our midst. How, for example, do people starve or find themselves homeless not only in the Third World, but on the streets of Western Society?

It's a question that may never be solved - but any help would be nice. A few billion dollars, if they're available to aim for Mars, could probably ease the plight of thousands of people.

But next to sending a new generation of astronauts into space, it's just not sexy enough - especially in an election year.

The chance to erase the failures of recent history - the twin shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2002 - and to recapture the glory of the 1960s is a classic campaign ploy.

The horizon will always tantalize human imagination and challenge our will to conquer it.

And it will always be there, to explore when there aren't more important things to do.

We think those billions of dollars have higher uses right here on earth. But there's as much chance of that happening asputting a man on the moon.

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