Today's Papers

Shuttle Scuttle

The Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today all lead with President Bush’s speech yesterday outlining his vision for space exploration, which would entail a return to the moon by 2020 and the eventual establishment of “a human presence across our solar system.” Bush called for the retirement of the aging space shuttle fleet by 2010 and the establishment of a lunar base that would be used as a launching pad to Mars and beyond. (The text of his speech can be found here.) The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online) and the NYT off-leads news that J.P. Morgan Chase plans to buy Bank One for $58 billion. The deal would create the second largest bank in the U.S., behind Citigroup, and the NYT says it would result in the elimination of about 10,000 jobs. The announcement represents the latest sign of consolidation in the banking industry, which recently saw FleetBoston acquired by Bank of America. The Justice Department and Federal Reserve will review the deal, but legal experts doubt they will move to block it.

The space initiative, says Bush, will cost $12 billion over the next five years, although $11 billion of that will come from funds diverted from other NASA projects *, particularly the shuttle program and the International Space Station, which will be considered complete in 2010. Congress may be reticent to approve any additional funding for NASA, however, in light of this year’s roughly $500 billion budget deficit. (WP says Republican officials believe fiscal conservatives will support the project because it offers the chance to extend U.S. military supremacy in space.) Bush’s father announced a similar space program in 1989, but Capitol Hill rejected it due to a price tag in excess of $400 billion. The overall cost of this mission could range anywhere from $120 billion (USAT) to $170 billion (WP) over 16 years, according to a NASA chart. The WP doesn’t mention the long-term price tag until after the jump, and the NYT and the LAT don’t bother to mention it at all. (Both papers, however, run pieces detailing NASA employees’ concerns about what will happen to many of the agency’s other projects—including the Hubble Space Telescope, Earth monitoring systems, and robotic space probes—if and when funds are diverted.)

In an analysis, the WP lauds Bush for solving NASA’s “vision problem” and giving the space program a firm mandate “after 30 years of going in circles around the home planet.” Bush’s speech was long on rhetorical flourishes and short on specifics, however, and the NYT, in an analysis that doubles as a dispiriting history lesson, says that similar grand plans have, more often that not, resulted in failure. “Can it be done?” asks one space historian. “Yes. This is feasible historically. Do the odds favor it? No.” Most of the papers (with the exception of the WP) gloss over the fact that the space plan was the direct result of a White House search for an initiative that would portray Bush as a visionary going into his re-election campaign.

Speaking of the campaign, there’s plenty of candidate coverage in all the papers as the Iowa caucuses near and races tighten in Iowa and New Hampshire. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., and front-runner Howard Dean traded increasingly personal insults yesterday, with Gephardt assailing Dean for “manufactured anger and false conviction” and Dean dismissing the criticism as “a sad commentary on Dick Gephardt.” Dean, meanwhile, went after retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who has been gaining on him in New Hampshire polls, accusing the general of being a closet Republican. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who has been in the low single digits in national polls, made it known last night that she would quit the race and endorse Dean at an event in Iowa today.

The LAT fronts and the WP stuffs word that increasing numbers of Americans will soon discover that they are likely to retire without health care benefits. According to a study released yesterday, 20 percent of the large U.S. private companies surveyed say they will probably eliminate benefits for future retirees by 2007. In the past year, 10 percent of companies with 1,000 or more workers eliminated such benefits.

Assuming all goes well, the Spirit Rover will roll off its lander and onto the surface of Mars today. The rover, which is equipped with a panoramic camera, is scheduled for an 80-day jaunt around the Martian landscape, looking for, among other things, evidence that water—and thus perhaps life—once existed on the planet.

In the Gaza Strip yesterday, a 22-year-old mother of two blew herself up at the entrance to a security inspection center, killing four Israelis and wounding seven.

Hanna Rosin reports from New Hampshire, where it’s gotten so cold—up to 20 below—that one local newscaster opened a morning show by pouring water onto his car windshield so viewers could watch it instantly freeze. Ski resorts are closed, and schools are considering following suit, but the campaign endures. Heather Kirn, a Dean volunteer assigned to wait outside an opera house and greet Dean’s arrival with raucous cheers, could not have been thrilled that her candidate was running 15 minutes late. “My hands,” she said. “Not good.”

Correction, Jan. 15, 2004: This piece originally stated that $11 million of funding for a new space initiative will come from funds earmarked for existing NASA programs. The correct figure is $11 billion. Return to the corrected sentence.