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The discovery of an apparent Martian microbe fossil has stirred a level of excitement in space exploration that has been missing for years-offering the first possibility that we indeed are not alone in the universe, if even just in the company of past cell life.

Perhaps even more fascinating is that scientists say Jupiter’s moon Europa, with recent Galileo spacecraft photos showing what looks like ice floes, appears to be the likeliest harbor of living organisms.

Yet Galileo’s mission, now circling Jupiter to chart the planet and its moons, is scheduled to end in December 1997. Scientists want to extend the mission to examine Europa more closely, which they estimate would cost just $10 million annually.

An effort under way by LunaCorp. seeks corporate support for further exploration of our own moon, or possibly Mars, with two lunar rovers.

Advertisers that are quick to back rock concerts, beach volleyball and golf tournaments might take a look at the opportunity to back hard-pressed space exploration projects. The value of an association with exciting planetary digs is obvious, especially with a possible payoff of worldwide attention.

With governmental space funds in short supply, why shouldn’t private industry have a hand in supporting some of civilization’s most fascinating news?

In the case of Galileo and Europa, for just $10 million it could be the bargain of the century. Better even than hiring celebrity endorsers who might turn out to be space cadets. After all, a robot rover isn’t likely to get involved in a sex or drug scandal.M


he democrats gather in convention in Chicago tonight with the TV network news types still in the blue funk they wrapped themselves in earlier this month at the Republican convention in San Diego. Just a four-day, tightly scripted infomercial, they said, that ‘‘didn’t make news.’’

No news? Colin Powell’s first major speech as an avowed Republican; the softer, gentler Newt Gingrich; Nancy Reagan, poignantly delivering a farewell on behalf of her ailing husband. Would Susan Molinari, unusual as a female keynoter, stir the crowd? Jack Kemp’s 180 on key issues. Bob Dole’s acceptance speech, setting out the campaign theme and thrust.

Hey guys, there was a lot going on in San Diego. And there’ll be a lot going on in Chicago: Democratic tactics to try to regain control of the Congress. Al Gore’s campaign role. Bill Clinton’s vision for a second terms. Questions of whether the Democrats can do as good a job as the GOP of holding various factions in check.

As self-congratulatory as these free-swinging political conventions are, they still provide many voters their best chance to hear what the candidates have to offer. And the media can play a role in pointing out inconsistencies, critiquing speeches and reporting on behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

From here on in, voters will see only the sound bites, the mud-slinging attack ads, the spots in which candidates define themselves without the second-guessing of the media and the stilted debates.

If the TV newsies can’t find the inherent news and drama in modern political conventions, they should at least cover them as a public service.

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