July 21, 2009
Josephine McKenna in Rome
Josephine McKenna in Rome
'Taped conversation with escort' puts more pressure on beleaguered Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi was facing fresh embarrassment last night after audio tapes surfaced of a supposed dalliance with a high-end prostitute at his Rome residence. "I'm going to take a shower too. If you finish before me, wait for me on the big bed," a man purported to be the Italian Prime Minister can be heard saying. "Which bed? Putin's?" queries his companion, Patrizia D'Addario. "Oh, how cute, the one with the curtains."
The reason why the fabric-covered bed is named after the Russian premier remains a mystery. But the audio tapes – posted online yesterday by Italian newspaper La Repubblica and weekly magazine L'Espresso – offer a tantalising glimpse into how Mr Berlusconi reportedly spent the night of 4 November 2008, when the rest of the world was waiting to see whether Barack Obama would become the first black occupant of the White House.
Mr Berlusconi's lawyer, Niccolo Ghedini, immediately disputed the veracity of the tapes, dismissing them as being "without any merit, completely improbable and the product of the imagination". Government minister Gianfrano Rotondi said it was an attempt by leftist media to "intimidate" the government by "the violation of every ethic" in journalism.
Mr Berlusconi has been dogged by sexual scandal ever since his wife announced she was divorcing him in May, tipped over the edge by his presence at the 18th birthday party of an aspiring model. Next came a flurry of pictures of naked people cavorting at his Sardinian villa, and then details of his alleged dealings with escort girls emerged during an investigation into supposed prostitution rackets in the southern city of Bari.
One conversation on the tapes is between Ms D'Addario and the businessman at the heart of that investigation, Giampaolo Tarantini. She phones him after her night with the premier and brags: "We didn't get a wink of sleep all night." Ms D'Addario then complains that there was no promised envelope with the €5,000 she had been expecting, although, she says, "I was given a present, I don't know, a little turtle thing". She says she also got a promise that the Prime Minister would send her some aides to help with problems she was having getting a B&B built. "And then he said he wanted to see me again with a female friend because [he wanted the] two of us."
Mr Berlusconi has not denied that Ms D'Addario came to Palazzo Grazioli, but has said he did not know the 42-year-old was an escort. Mr Tarantini has apologised for the scandal, saying he brought the women to the premier's residence to show off and they were only paid travel expenses.
The Italian electorate has largely shrugged off the furore surrounding Mr Berlusconi. His party won big in last month's European elections and his approval rating is still around 50 per cent. His successful hosting of this month's G8 summit in the earthquake-devasted city of L'Aquila finally seemed to turn attention back to his political skills. Then came the escort tapes.
According to the transcripts, Mr Berlusconi phoned Ms D'Addario the day after their assignation on the Putin bed. He marvels at how he has got through a busy day, despite the lack of sleep. She tells him she's lost her voice. "Eh, how come?" the Prime Minister replies. "We didn't scream." "And I didn't yell," Ms D'Addario says. "Who knows why my voice has gone. Do you know why? Because I took 10 showers in ice-cold water because I was hot."
Silvio's secrets: The tape transcripts
Silvio: I’m going to take a shower too. And if you finish before me, wait for me on the big bed.
Patrizia: Which bed? Putin's?
Patrizia: Oh, how cute! The one with the curtains.
Silvio: Everything good?
Patrizia: Yes, you?
Silvio: Me, yes. I've worked a lot. This morning I went to open an exhibition, I made a wonderful speech, that got lots of applause, and I don't seem too tired.
Patrizia: Ah, just like me in fact. I'm not tired, I've not slept. It's just my voice that has gone.
Silvio: Eh, how come? We didn't scream.
Giorgio Silvestri | Madrid
'Yo también voy a ducharme... ¿me esperas en la cama grande, si terminas antes que yo?'. '¿En qué cama, la de Putin?'. 'Sí, la de Putin'. 'Ay, qué bonita, ¡la de las cortinillas!'.
El primer ministro italiano, Silvio Berlusconi, está otra vez en apuros después de que el semanal romano 'L'Espresso' publicara este lunes en su página web las cinco grabaciones de audio de los dos encuentros entre 'Il Cavaliere' y la prostituta de lujo Patrizia D'Addario.
Dichos encuentros, 'pinchados' a escondidas por la propia D'Addario, tuvieron lugar hacia la mitad de octubre de 2008 y la noche del pasado 4 de noviembre, la misma en la que Barack Obama ganó las elecciones presidenciales norteamericanas.
En la primera conversación, entre D'Addario y un mayordomo de la residencia del mandatario italiano en Roma, se puede oír a la 'escort' preguntar: "Pero, ¿ahora cenamos?". La respuesta del hombre es lapidaria: "Ni idea... es que el presidente es un poco alegre: canta, cuenta algún chiste". Y ella: "¿Nosotras también podemos cantar?".
La segunda escucha es más larga y elocuente: D'Addario y otra mujer se presentan a Berlusconi, probablemente al tanto de su ocupación. Las mujeres intentan romper el hielo y comentan: "Las dos vamos vestidas de negro". Berlusconi se muestra ilusionado, y les cuenta que ha confeccionado nada menos que "22 vestidos" igual de bonitos para su teatro particular.
Aquella noche, así como contó a los magistrados hace unos días, ni D'Addario ni su compañera terminaron la noche en casa del mandatario italiano. Eso sí, la prostituta de lujo, preguntada por el propio Berlusconi, le pone al tanto de unas complicadas operaciones inmobiliarias en Bari ("Sola, es un poco dura"). Esto último, al parecer, le tranquiliza: "Me hizo una promesa: me dijo que iba a enviar a gente para la obra", según cuenta D'Addario por teléfono, días más tarde, al también empresario Giampaolo Tarantini, el 'organizador' de las fiestas de Berlusconi.
Llegamos así a la 'fogosa' noche electoral estadounidense del pasado 4 de noviembre. Berlusconi enseña a D'Addario un libro que quiere regalarle, y acto seguido exclama: 'Yo también voy a ducharme... ¿me esperas en la cama grande, si terminas antes que yo?'. '¿En qué cama, la de Putin?', pregunta ella. 'Sí, la de Putin'. 'Ay, qué bonita, ¡la de las cortinillas!'. D'Addario, según declaró a los jueces, pasó aquella noche con el jefe del ejecutivo italiano.
La cuarta grabación, del 5 de noviembre, se refiere a la llamada telefónica de la pareja a Giampaolo Tarantini. La mujer no se corta una pizca: "Anoche no pegamos ojo". "¿Y qué tal?", le pregunta éste. "Bien, pero no había ningún sobre", comenta la mujer. "¿De verdad?". "Te lo juro. Me habías dicho que iba a haber un sobre. Me hizo un regalito, yo qué sé, una tortuguita", se lamenta D'Addario, que se esperaba una 'recompensa' de unos 5.000 euros.
Justo al final de la llamada, emerge otro detalle picante: "Quiere que me deje lamer por una amiga suya", comenta la mujer a su interlocutor, que, algo incómodo, sonríe: "De todas formas, él es bueno...".
Llegamos así a la llamada telefónica de Berlusconi, que está a punto de partir para Moscú, a D'Addario, también del 5 de noviembre. "Esta mañana he inaugurado una exposición, he hecho un muy buen discurso, con aplausos, no parecía estar ni siquiera cansado...", le revela él.
Lo mismo digo yo: no tengo sueño, tan sólo se me ha ido la voz", replica la mujer. "Es que me duché diez veces con el agua helada porque tenía calor", añade. Segundos más tarde, ambos se despiden con un "adiós, cariño".
John Hooper analyses recordings allegedly made by escorts invited to parties held by the Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi
Read the transcript of clips published today by two Italian websites, purporting to contain the Italian prime minister in conversation with an escort
An escort, Patrizia D'Addario, is about to enter Berlusconi's Palazzo Grazioli. She asks a man who accompanies her how to behave with Berlusconi.
Man: … I'm staying behind […]
Patrizia: But are we having dinner now? Then at what time should we say ... as usual [...]
Man: ... I don't know ... because ... I know that the president is a bit jolly ... he sings ... tells a few jokes.
Patrizia: So we can sing?
Man: … and then you get into some more ... but... there's no problem.
Berlusconi presents himself to the women. Among jokes and laughs, the party takes off.
Male voice: Clarissa ...
SB: Ciao, everything OK?
SB: Ah, what nice girls you are ... my compliments.
PD: Thank you.
Woman: We're all in black!
Male voice: All in black!
SB: Among other things, I have... isn't that incredible ... I've ordered 22 costumes for our theatre, you know those costumes, they made them.
Male voice: Are you forgetting something?
SB: So... you, where are you from?
PD: I'm from Milan [but at the moment I'm living in Bari] …
SB: What are you doing?
PD: I'm taking care of a property operation […] it's not going very well because by myself it's a bit hard.
It is 4 November – two weeks have passed.
SB: This [book?...], I've designed this.
PD: You've done a very good job.
SB: Did you have this last time?
SB: You were here already last time?
SB: Well isn't that incredible... and this one? Take.
PD: No, not this one.
SB: It's the most beautiful one.
PD: The most beautiful one is this one.
SB: Take this one with you, give it to someone as a gift.
SB: No, it would be a waste.
PD: Did you design this one also?
SB: The idea is mine but I haven't designed it. Just look at this ... how it's made. It's a friend of mine who's made it for me. He does everything for me ... I'm also going to have a shower ... and then, then are you going to wait for me in the big bed if you're done before me?
PD: What big bed ... Putin's?
SB: Yes, Putin's.
PD: Oh how nice ... that one with the curtains.
It is 5 November. Patrizia and her "agent" Giampaolo Tarantini are discussing her sleepless night with the prime minister.
PD: Hi, good afternoon.
GT: Good afternoon.
PD: How are you?
PD: We didn't sleep last night.
GT: I can imagine. How did it go?
PD: Good, no envelope though.
PD: I swear to you. How come? You told me there would be an envelope [...] gave me a gift, I don't know, a little turtle.
PD: And then made me a promise.
GT: Which was?
PD: That ... OK, I can tell you, so long as you don't tell anyone. He told me that he would send me people on the construction site. He said it, so should I believe it?
GT: Yes, if he says it. Did you give him your number?
PD: Yes, I gave him my number; he wanted it this morning, and my surname too, and told me that he would help me on the construction site, would send me people.
GT: OK then.
PD: And then told me that he would like to see me with a female friend because ... two of us.
GT: Listen, how? What time did you get back?
PD: Just now, before I called you.
GT: But where are you, in the hotel already?
GT: Let's meet for a coffee.
PD: Yes, if you want we will be here in the hotel, we don't even know what time we need to leave.
GT: Amò sent you a message yesterday.
PD: Ah, was it written what time we need to leave? As Barbara said, as soon as I arrived he asked "You have received the envelope, €5,000." I said no, I haven't taken anything.
GT: I wanted to say something to you, he said something about me, no?
PD: He only asked me how long we had known each other, I said for a long time – was that the right thing to say?
GT: Well done, yes.
PD: I said we had known each other a long time, and I said that Barbara is a friend of mine too, he said that he has a girlfriend and would like to have me licked by this girlfriend.
PD: I promise you, this is what he said. Very affectionate, all night we didn't sleep.
GT: Good for him.
SB: How are you this morning?
PD: How are you?
SB: This morning.
SB: Everything good?
PD: Yes, you?
SB: Me, yes. I've worked a lot. This morning I went to open this exhibition, I gave a great speech, with applause, and I didn't seem tired.
PD: Ah, like me in fact, I'm not tired, I haven't slept. Only my voice is gone.
SB: Why? We didn't shout.
PD: And yet, I didn't holler, who knows why my voice is gone. Do you know why? Because I took a shower, 10 times with icy water because I was hot.
SB: Great. Listen, everything OK?
PD: Yes, everything is good.
SB: They've worn out. I'm leaving now for Moscow.
SB: I'll call you tomorrow when I get back, OK?
PD: OK, a big strong kiss to you.
SB: Goodbye, treasure.
Woman: Bye. A kiss.
• Spotlight back on private life after L'Aquila summit
• Tapes claim Italian PM sought menage-a-trois
If Silvio Berlusconi thought he'd shaken off the furore over his alleged use of escort girls, he was in for a nasty surprise today.
The Italian prime minister has successfully deflected and sidestepped lurid allegations about his supposed liaisons in recent weeks, helped by some timely international summitry which let him demonstrate his statesmanship, not to mention his commitment to dealing with the aftermath of the L'Aquila earthquake.
But today it was all about call girls, giant beds and the suggestion of a menage-a-trois, after a left-leaning news magazine, L'Espresso, posted "pillow talk" recordings that an escort said she made during a night with the septuagenarian Italian leader.
The escort, Patrizia D'Addario, claims the tapes relate to the night of 4 November last year, when the leaders of the world were holding their breath, waiting to see if Americans would elect their first black president.
Berlusconi, apparently, had other things on his mind.
According to D'Addario, Berlusconi was entertaining her in the bedroom of his magnificent Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli. In one fragment of conversation, Berlusconi appears to direct D'Addario to wait for him in bed while he showers. In another conversation, recorded the next day, she protests to Giampaolo Tarantini, the businessman who allegedly set her up with the Italian prime minister, that she had not received the €5,000 (£4,300) she was expecting.
In a third snippet, it is claimed she confides to the same intermediary that Berlusconi asked her whether next time they met she would agree to a menage-a-trois with another of his girlfriends.
"He said that he has a girlfriend and would like to have me lick this girlfriend," D'Addario says, according to the posted recordings.
The Berlusconi camp moved quickly to rubbish the tapes. Berlusconi's spokesman said: "This seesaw of gossip is not getting anywhere". A spokesman for his party, the Freedom People, called the release of the recordings "pathetic". An attorney, Niccolo Ghedini, said they were "without any merit, completely improbable and the fruit of invention".
The content of the conversations was reported in broad terms last month, but the words themselves, some pronounced in what sound like the distinctively nasal tones of Italy's prime minister, are likely to have an effect no news report can rival.
One of the conversations appears to back claims that Italy's leader has a giant bed with a connection, as yet unclear, to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
After an exchange in which the prime minister seems to be offering a present to D'Addario, he says to her: "I'm taking a shower." He then asks her to wait on the big bed. She asks which one. He replies: "Putin's".
The tapes also include ammunition for Berlusconi's supporters, however. He has said that he has never paid for sex, and insisted that he was unaware the women who attended his parties were being rewarded. In the telephone call with Tarantini, D'Addario tells him that things went well, adding: "No envelope, though."
There is another respect in which the recordings could help Berlusconi. They imply that the 72 year-old billionaire politician, who has had prostate cancer, nevertheless has remarkable sexual endurance. It remains to be seen if that will inspire more admiration than censure among ordinary Italians.
D'Addario tells Tarantini "we didn't sleep a wink" and when Berlusconi calls her later, she is heard to say that she is not tired even though she didn't sleep. "Only my voice has gone," she says. He replies: "Why? We didn't shout."
On the recording, both the voices sound gruff.
D'Addario, who stood as a candidate in local elections this year for a group close to the prime minister's party, has given the recordings to prosecutors investigating Tarantini.
MIGUEL MORA | Roma 20/07/2009
Patrizia D'Addario no mentía. La prostituta, de 42 años, afirmó que había visitado dos veces a Silvio Berlusconi en su residencia de palazzo Grazioli y que había entregado las cintas que prueban dichos encuentros al fiscal Giuseppe Scelsi. Ahora, la revista L'Espresso ha publicado esas cintas. Son cinco grabaciones distintas, que confirman por entero la historia que D'Addario ha contado a los fiscales y a diversos periódicos, entre ellos a EL PAÍS.
Las cintas, en las que se oye claramente la voz de Berlusconi, demuestran que el primer ministro mintió a la opinión pública cuando dijo que no recordaba haber visto nunca la cara de D'Addario, a la que después acusó de haber sido "pagada" para montarle una trampa.
D'Addario, una escort de lujo de 42 años, fue contratada por Gianpaolo Tarantini, un empresario pullés que se hizo amigo íntimo de Berlusconi en el verano de 2008 y que está siendo investigado por corrupción, cesión de drogas e inducción de la prostitución.
La mujer acudió con Gianpi a palazzo Grazioli dos veces distintas. Una a mitad de octubre de 2008, a una cena en la que había otras 20 chicas, escort y velinas, entre ellas una pareja de prostitutas lesbianas. D'Addario no se quedó esa noche porque, ha explicado después, no tenía intención de participar en una orgía. Según su testimonio, esa fue la razón de que cobrara solo 1.000 euros en vez de los 2.000 que Tarantino le había prometido.
La segunda visita se produjo el 4 de noviembre, era la noche del triunfo electoral de Barack Obama. D'Addario se quedó a pasar la velada con Berlusconi. Pero tampoco cobró un euro porque, según afirmó, el primer ministro le prometió ayudarla con el proyecto urbanístico que estaba tratando de construir en Bari.
Las cinco conversaciones que publica L'Espresso en su página web relatan la sucesión de los hechos. En la primera, D'Addario se está acercando a palazzo Grazioli en coche, y una voz masculina le explica que el presidente es "un poco alegre, y canta y cuenta chistes".
En la segunda grabación, se oye a Silvio Berlusconi saludar a las chicas ("Ah, qué monas, felicidades") y presentarse a D'Addario. La segunda noche están Gianpaolo Tarantini, D'Addario, y dos 'chicas imagen' de Bari, una de ellas Barbara Montereale y otra su amiga Lucia. Acabada la cena, Berlusconi se queda a solas con D'Addario, le muestra un catálogo de joyas, algunas diseñadas por él mismo, y le invita a esperarle en la habitación:
-Yo me doy una ducha y ¿luego me esperas en la camaza (lettone) si terminas primero tú?, dice Berlusconi.
-¿Qué camaza?-, pregunta D'Addario- ¿la de Putin?
-Sí, la de Putin.
Como fondo se escucha música: es la voz del cantante neomelódico napolitano nacido en Nueva York, que hace furor entre los jóvenes camorristas, Sal da Vinci. La canción se titula Zoccole zoccole (putas, putas).
Acabada la noche, D'Addario vuelve al hotel romano donde se alojaba y graba una conversación telefónica con Tarantini. Le explica que no ha recibido el sobre con el dinero.
-No hemos pegado ojo esta noche -dice D'Addario- ¿Y el sobre, qué? Barbara me ha dicho, en cuanto he llegado si he visto el sobre, 5.000 euros. Le he dicho que no, que yo no he cogido nada.
Luego, D'Addario explica que Berlusconi ha prometido interesarse por el complejo residencial que quiere construir en Bari. Y le dice a Tarantini:
-Y después me ha dicho que quiere volver a verme con una amiga, porque, a dos... Ha dicho que tiene una amiga y que quiere hacerme chupar por ella. Te lo juro, eso me ha dicho.
Un poco más tarde, la última grabación. Berlusconi llama a D'Addario.
-He trabajado mucho- le dice-, esta mañana he ido a inaugurar una exposición, y he hecho un bellísimo discurso, con aplausos, y no parecía cansado.
-Como yo, de hecho- responde Patrizia- yo no tengo sueño y no he dormido, solo he perdido la voz.
-¿Y eso? Si no gritamos...
-Yo tampoco he gritado, quién sabe por qué he perdido la voz -ironiza D'Addario. ¿Sabes por qué? Porque me he duchado 10 veces con agua helada porque tenía calor.
Anyone who grew up in the Nineties probably fears tie-dye revivals, and with good reason. However, this unusual accordion- shaped clutch bag is the exception that proves the rule. Intriguingly home-made looking, this is a style for a woman who doesn't fear being different.
(Source - The independent, uk)
"Let the lipstick be the star of the show," agrees Poppy King, founder of cult independent brand Lipstick Queen, which, alongside a neat range of pinks and browns, boasts the most flattering, easy-to-wear reds around. King herself has a touch of the modern day Marilyn about her, with finger waved hair the colour of unsalted butter and a silk scarf tied round her Louis Vuitton bag, à la Joan in Mad Men, and of course, a pristine crimson pout. Despite these retro touches, however, she is by no means slavishly vintage. "People always say to me, 'oh you must love Dita Von Teese', but that's not my idea of how to wear lipstick now," she insists, "that's costume and burlesque." Instead of the painted perfection of a Fifties starlet, King complements her colour with a light base, blusher and eye make-up. In her view, the most contemporary way to do bright colour is with minimal make up and jewellery, and loose messy hair, just like
Chloë Sevigny, who wears lipstick with "strength and power, but not in a threatening Eighties way". According to Paul Herrington, head of artistry at Bobbi Brown, warm skin tones suit reds with orange undertones and cool skin tones suit blue undertones. However, for a clear red that flatters anyone try King's Red Sinner, which stays true thanks to its equal amounts of blue and yellow.
Bright lipstick can be daunting, but King's shades stand out amidst an array of mystifying plumpers, lacquers and next big thing ingredients, thanks to their simplicity. "There is a real craving for something uncomplicated," says King, whose brand is just that. The animated Australian, who beats numerous big brands to boast the best-selling lipstick in New York store Barneys (her sheer Medieval tint) and has waiting lists for her products at Space NK, started Lipstick Queen in 2007 with two products in a range of colours that she compares to "full fat and Diet Coke". Sinner is an opaque with 90 per cent pigment and Saint is a subtle sheer version with 10 per cent pigment for anyone who finds heavy colour too much.
They came out in 2007 when the lipstick revival first started after years of gloss, and Women's Wear Daily called it "the breakthrough product of the year", recalls the 37-year-old make-up fanatic who launched her first company, Poppy Industries, when she was just 18. "You wonder why a simple product would be a breakthrough but people wanted a return to lipstick in its most iconic form," she explains. Since then the range has expanded to include the Big Bang lipgloss, the name of which was inspired by King's theory that the right ratio of shimmer to shine will suggest Jolie-like lips more effectively than plumpers which sting them into looking bigger, and the new Chinatown gloss. Coming in pencil form, it was influenced by the kookiness of Chinatown in New York, and the Roman Polanski film.
King often glances at the past for inspiration, before giving it a modern twist. Medieval, which King describes as the "entry level of reds", was inspired by beautifying techniques from the Middle Ages when it wasn't respectable for women to paint their lips. Instead they would squeeze lemon juice onto their mouths to irritate the skin, causing the blood to rush to the surface. To recreate the just-bitten shade, King repeatedly squeezed lemon onto her own increasingly-tender moue, while a chemist faithfully copied it. The instant polish that Medieval gives has attracted a cult following. King has noticed her overall sales double in the last six months, but she sees the lipstick index – Leonard Lauder's theory that lipstick sales rise when the economy drops – less of a viable financial barometer than an insight into consumer psychology. "That idea is code for the fact that lipstick cheers women up, especially in a recession," she says, "and there is a renewed interest in wearing strong colour. It just has a feeling of hope."
Shades and textures vary with the seasons but the power of lipstick to enliven the complexion is unrivalled. "You can tell immediately if a lipstick suits you because it lights up your eyes, your hair, your skin," says King, "as if the sun has come out from behind a cloud." It was this property that led her to work with her favourite cosmetic. "I've always thought that it was the one thing that made me look so much better," she says, "it's like a Superman suit." King grew up in Melbourne and started her first line of matte lipsticks because she despaired of the "Debbie Gibson fuschia gloss" around in the Eighties. She worked on her Poppy brand for 12 years, during which time she was named Young Australian of the Year, then became became vice president of marketing at Prescriptives before launching Lipstick Queen in 2007.
Her favourite lipstick wearers, Louise Brooks and Eighties-era Madonna, used it to radically reinvent themselves. "Brooks' look was pure flapper," she explains, "her dark pout showed she wanted to be taken seriously, sexually and intellectually. Madonna's lipstick was sexually arousing but on her own terms." Her passion is also ignited by the fact she believes lipstick isn't about correcting a perceived fault – like concealer – or enhancing something – like mascara. It's an instrument of pure self-expression.
Lipstick Queen is available exclusively in the UK at Space NK spacenk.co.uk
Poppy King's red lip essentials
For a bold, fresh look, wear red lipstick with minmnal make-up. Even out your skin with a base or luminiser to get it looking even but natural, then apply mascara, very little liner or eyeshadow, a smidgen of blush on the apples of the cheeks, not horrible stripes, for that country picnic look.
Straight from the tube is the best way to apply lipstick, then blot once and reapply. Dabbing a tiny bit on your cheek is a fabulous way to tie your whole look together, even if you use your usual blush. Look for a red that is as true as possible and doesn't go orange or pink. Lipliner is only necessary if you really feel like you want to define the edge, but it's not a must, and try and find one that matches as closely as possible. Apply it after you have put on your lipstick for a less heavy-handed look.
The Apollo 11 mission inspired me to become an astronaut. Forty years later, the task of exploring space must go on
Forty years ago, I watched with the rest of the world as Eagle touched down on the surface of the moon. Even as an eight-year-old boy, I knew that the world had just changed. I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut. I wanted to do that.
When I was invited by Nasa to interview for the Astronaut Corps, we had just celebrated the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11. What a heady time to be selected as an astronaut! President HW Bush had just asked Congress for a 24% increase in Nasa's budget to support his Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). SEI called for completion of Space Station Freedom, the establishment of a moon base and a crewed Mars landing by 2019.
SEI didn't materialise, for a number of reasons. Fifteen years after the SEI announcement, I stood with a small group of fellow astronauts at Nasa headquarters in Washington, as President Bush (43) announced his Vision for Space Exploration (VSE). The VSE called for the completion of the International Space Station and retirement of the space shuttle by 2010, the first crewed flight of a new spacecraft by 2014 and a crewed return to the moon by 2020, with Mars exploration to follow on an indefinite schedule.
We are five years into the VSE, with the programme called Constellation. Rockets, spacecraft and other hardware are being designed and built. But, the programme is grappling with its share of controversy and challenges.
To consider the direction that Nasa should pursue, President Obama's White House office of science and technology policy formed the review of US human space flight committee in early June, chaired by veteran aerospace executive Norm Augustine. I am honoured to be one of the 10 members of this committee. We have been tasked to perform a 90-day study, the result of which will be sets of options for the new administration. This is an important departure from past studies: We have been asked to issue not recommendations, but options.
I can promise that we are looking at everything: Constellation in its current form, alternative architectures, alternative rockets and spacecraft, commercial ventures, international aspects, advanced concepts and, of course, budget. In addition, there are workforce issues to consider, technology issues, industrial base concerns, to name a few. The trick will be to stitch different sub-options together into a workable number of paths.
As one might expect, we have not yet reached conclusions nor formed option sets. All of our deliberations are announced and open to the public, so anyone can follow our progress and direction. We all have individual opinions, but those opinions are evolving as we learn more and hear more points of view.
Who, in 1969, could have imagined that we would not have regular travel to and from moon bases by the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11? The announcement of the SEI in 1989 gave us hope that we would be back to the moon to stay, within another 20 years. Those 20 years have passed, and the nation's space programme is in an uncertain time.
So, where should we go over the next 20 years?
One thing is clear in my mind: It is vital that America maintains the leadership role in space exploration. The derived prestige is important to the national psyche, reaching to the core of the can-do attitude that defines our nation. Perhaps most importantly, the space programme not only drives technology, it inspires our young. Because these benefits are unquantifiable, many people discount their importance. But, history tells us to ignore these qualities at our own peril. Nations that allow themselves to slip often become second-rate powers or disappear altogether.
This does not preclude international cooperation and partnerships. Quite the opposite, I strongly encourage it. Today's space programme is not the same as the cold war space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The International Space Station has faced challenges, but it stands as a positive symbol of common ground, where the partner nations work together toward a common goal.
As we move forward, the United States should continue to lead the international partnership of space explorers, as we strive to travel again beyond low Earth orbit. We should bring new countries into the partnership, which have contributions to offer. In 2003, China became only the third country able to loft astronauts into space. Over the last six years, they have demonstrated impressive abilities, performing a spacewalk on their last mission. India has made strides in rocket technology and has announced its intention to develop a human space flight programme.
Should we look back at the last 40 years and be disappointed? I believe that would be a mistake. Skylab was a resounding success. Despite the challenges, the space shuttle and International Space Station are marvellous flying machines. We started down the road of international cooperation with the Apollo-Soyuz test project, and led the formation and maturation of the current, highly successful international partnership.
We have not had the big home run since Apollo, but we have made steady progress. Let's keep going.