Sacrifice Fly

February 2003
New Republic;2/17/2003, Vol. 228 Issue 6, p8
Offers observations on the crash of the Columbia space shuttle, and its implications for the United States National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). The way to honor the Columbia dead is to stop the space shuttle program--a program that kills valiant astronauts, accomplishes almost nothing in space, and wastes huge amounts of money for political rather than scientific reasons. If kept flying, the space shuttle is certain to fail again. Honor the Columbia seven by replacing the shuttle with a new system for reaching space--new, unmanned rockets that fly without risk to life, coupled with a new, smaller spacecraft or "spaceplane" designed just for people and incorporating the new technology developed in the quarter-century since the first space shuttle was built. Though technologically impressive and expertly crewed, it is too big and too complex a piece of equipment, with too unrealistic a mission. The space shuttle's size and complexity also reflect unrealistic goals. In terms of lifting payloads, the shuttle also does nothing unmanned rockets could not do more cheaply and without risk to human life. NASA defenders say the core problem is agency underfunding. NASA figures from the past decade show the same trend: steadily increased spending per shuttle flight as the number of launches declines by a greater amount than overall budget contraction.


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