America's problematic "Man on Mars" project was finally cancelled yesterday, just over a year after President George W. Bush had announced it to a stunned space community.
"We were a little surprised by how ambitious this programme seemed to be, but we didn't like to say anything," said NASA today. "I mean, he's the President, he might have known something that we didn't."
"It seems that the President was led astray by the reports of the Martian meteorite found on Antarctica", explains the White House. "People were talking about Mars having a lot of frozen water, and he looked at the pictures, and the maps showing the location of "the Mars rock", and some degree of confusion was only natural. I do recall him saying that the meteorite site didn't look very red. Perhaps our briefings were not as clear as they could have been."
The US "Manned Mars Mission", or "3M" was officially announced to the public in January 2004, after preliminary meetings with top NASA engineers. "He said, well, if it's really that important to find if there's life there, its not really that far … why don't we just go?", said Hendrik von Strasse, Chief Propulsion Engineer at NASA JPL.
"At the time we were really impressed by that. You don't normally see that level of commitment and enthusiasm for space exploration from a President."
The misunderstanding came to light after the President's Q&A session with the engineers last week. "We were getting on okay showing him the "Martian Rover" and "Mars Habitat" plans, but then we showed him some sketches of reusable rocket designs, and when he asked whether it wouldn't be cheaper to go most of the way there by boat, we realised that we had a problem."
The meeting broke down acrimoniously. "The engineers were pretty pissed, and the President was pretty pissed too. They tried to explain to him that Antarctica was not Mars, and when he ordered them to point out where Mars was on the map, and they refused, he got tetchy. We tried showing him some diagrams of the solar system and told him that Mars wasn't anywhere on Earth, and that you couldn't take a boat there, but the diagrams had a dark blue background, so then he just kept asking why we couldn't use a submarine instead. I think he thought we were trying to be difficult."
Meetings attempting to salvage the mission were finally abandoned last night, after a joint communiqué from the White House and NASA announcing that the mission was cancelled due to "unforeseen logistical and budgetary problems".