MANNO: Reinvest in space exploration

Clint Eastwood, President Obama and the Mars Curiosity Rover walk into a bar. It’s been a while, so they decide catch up.

“I got bear-hugged by a pizza guy on the campaign trail in Florida this week!” the president says. “With the DNC and, you know, being president, Michelle and I have been pretty busy.”

“I gave an eloquent, well-thought-out speech at the RNC a couple weeks back!” Eastwood says. “Polls are saying it was the most popular moment of the convention!”

“That’s great, guys,” Curiosity says. “I took a 154 million mile trip to the surface of Mars to collect data that may reveal potential life and bring us closer to our origins in the universe. Since my landing on Aug. 6, I’ve sent back dozens of high-resolution photos to the folks at NASA via radio signals. On Sunday I even took a few self-portraits covered in Martian dust – it’s really incredible! I even found a way to broadcast the first human voice sent from a planet other than Earth. Other than that, I’ve just been firing lasers and traveling toward Glenelg Intrigue to study Martian terrains.”

Her two pals smile and nod. Eastwood gives her a thumbs-up.

Curiosity orders a rusty nail on the rocks and the President has himself a beer. It’s an appletini for Mr. Eastwood, which he sips slowly with his pinkie out. After some idle banter, Curiosity nudges the president on the shoulder.

“Barry, I’ve been doing pretty well up on Mars. What do you think about reworking your 2013 budget to throw a few extra bucks to NASA instead of a $59 million cut? Learning about space benefits the entire world, you know.”

“Er… I don’t know, Curiosity,” the president says. He stops for a smiley photo with a supporter and a quick interview.

Curiosity goes on. “In your convention speech last Thursday you talked about getting kids interested in math and science at a young age. What better way to stir their interest? The country’s top astronomers say so. The Shuttle Program ended last year, Barry, and it seems like the U.S. has lost interest in space exploration. It’s time we make space a priority again.”

But it’s no use. The president is talking, and everyone is busy listening.

Curiosity turns to Clint Eastwood. “Clint, the news has put you in the spotlight ever since your speech. You think you could use some airtime to tell everyone why exploring space is so important? It was explorers who built this country, and it’s important for the public to think about this. Maybe if the media talked about it once in a while things would be different …”

“You darn kids!” Eastwood says. “Lay off, Curiosity, I’m busy!” Eastwood, who now represents Mitt Romney and the GOP, falls into heated debate with the president. All eyes are on them.

Only the bartender feels for Curiosity. Here she was overcoming human limitations and relaying some of the most important modern knowledge about the universe to date. Yet it seems only to be buried in the news rubble of political bickering and sensationalism. Sure, it’s an election season, and sure, Americans have other fish to fry. But if the public can cut through the months of back-and-forth between candidates, maybe it will throw a bone to NASA when the time comes.

The bartender thinks he’ll tell his friends and write to his representatives to push the issue once election season is over (cough cough).

Closing time is approaching, and after finishing her drink, Curiosity happily heads out. Clint Eastwood is still yelling. He tugs his belt and clenches a fist at Mr. Obama. “What you have to ask yourself is, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

“Mr. Eastwood, the president left 30 minutes ago,” the bartender says. “You’re talking to an empty stool.”