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President suffering from Venus envy?

By John Breneman

A White House speechwriter who helped President Bush craft his vision for rededicating America to space exploration said today he is ecstatic the president took his advice not to deliver the address wearing a NASA flightsuit and astronaut helmet.

Bush on Wednesday outlined a plan to build a permanent outpost on the lunar surface and to use it as a base for manned expeditions to Mars. The speech writer, who claims he also persuaded Bush not to joke that he is "itching to explore Uranus," offered some insight into what prompted the president's sudden interest in outer space.

On Tuesday, the president walked past a TV displaying images of the Mars space rover and asked, "What's that thing?" When an aide informed him of NASA's mission to explore Mars, Bush reportedly muttered "Cool."

Intrigued, the president stayed up late watching reruns of "Star Trek" and The Jetsons." The next morning he arrived at the Oval Office buzzing with ideas and telling Cabinet officials he was eager "to explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no man has gone before."

When told that his dad proposed the same exact thing back in 1989 but gave up when it got too expensive, Bush squinted and replied, "Oh."

The president forged ahead with his politically courageous "pro-space" stance despite what he called "cry-baby talk" from critics who said he might want to first address the mounting federal deficit and domestic issues like health care.

In the speech he pledged $1 billion to NASA, along with an additional $200,000 if the space agency promised to hire 15 Mexican janitors by the year 2006. The president also named former astronaut John Glenn the nation's first "Space Czar."

Bush said mankind is destined to explore space to help satisfy "the human thirst for knowledge," and for delicious Tang.

The president concluded, "We choose to explore space because doing so improves our lives and lifts our national spirit. And by the way, anyone who doesn't support my space plan is a friggin' terrorist."


Space tourist withstands G-force satire

By John Breneman

A nasty sunburn nearly forced South African space tourist Mark Shuttleworth to cut short his 10-day, 10-night vacation to the International Space Station.

Shuttleworth, who paid $20 million to the cash-strapped Russian space agency for his ticket to the cosmos, apparently forgot to apply the recommended SPF-5000 sunscreen as his chauffeur-piloted Soyuz limousine rocketed past the sun.

There was also a tense moment just before the April 25 launch when Shuttleworth, who arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with three bulging suitcases, squabbled with a Soviet flight attendant who told him passengers were limited to one carry-on bag.

The flight to the International Space Station, a facility the Internet millionaire has dubbed "Club ISS," went smoothly. But mission commander Yuri Gidzenko reportedly became quite annoyed by Shuttleworth's repeated cries of "Are we there yet?"

Shuttleworth, who denied reports that he soiled his Armani spacesuit during liftoff, also aggravated Gidzenko and Italian flight engineer Roberto Vittori by asking them to take snapshots of him with notable celestial landmarks like Mars and the Big Dipper in the background. The pair also spurned Shuttleworth's offer of $1.5 million in American Express travelers checks to let him "yank the red thruster thingy."

Shuttleworth, who boasted before blastoff of becoming the first native African in space, said he was also determined to be the first man to polish off a 12-ounce herb-encrusted filet mignon garnished with pan-seared sea scallops and wash it down with Dom Perignon while in orbit.

Shuttleworth's quest has inspired other outer space thrill-seekers, including 23-three-year-old musician Lance Bass of the group 'N Sync, who dreams of becoming the first pop music clone in space.

Rap music impresario Dr. Dre, Ph.D., reportedly hopes to study the effects of a mind-numbing beat and violent, misogynist lyrics in a weightless environment.

Others eager to jump on the cosmic bandwagon include Geraldo Rivera, Farrah Fawcett and the Dalai Lama, who yearns to become the first man to reach nirvana in outer space.


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