Keep exploring the final frontier?

Question Of The Month

April 26, 2003

If we are to continue our march toward the technological future of the human race, the answer must be a resounding "yes" - the space shuttle program should continue and manned space flight is worth the cost and risks.

The shuttle might not be the best or most efficient possible design for operations in space; however, it's the only game in town. We have no choice but to continue to use the shuttle if we plan to participate in the rigors and rewards of space.

Since the first human yearned to find out what was on the other side of the hill across the valley or yearned to fly, we have been on a journey of discovery. That journey might be slowed by cost but it will not be stopped because of risk to human life.

Risk is a given in any program of audacious discovery, whether that of Marco Polo or Lewis and Clark. Humans understand risk and deal with it every day. Those who choose to become pilots or astronauts do so knowing their exciting calling can in seconds become a fatal adventure.

There is much written about human destiny being in space - and that may be right. At this juncture, we cannot know.

What we do know is that we have made the first faltering steps into a dangerous environment. And regardless of what NASA does, space programs will go forward in other parts of the globe, simply because there are those who so desperately want to journey over that next hill.

The most technologically powerful nation on Earth should not absent itself from that journey. We must go on.

W. C. Harsanyi

Pasadena

The average American household pays about $136 a year in taxes that go to finance the nation's space program. Of this amount, about $95 supports humans in space - that is, to pay for flying the space shuttle and building and operating the space station.

By comparison, we spend about seven times this much on education and two times this much on the environment. So perhaps the bill for space exploration is a small price to pay for pushing the frontier.

And, as for the risks, the number of qualified applicants for NASA's astronaut corps greatly exceeds the number NASA is able to select.

In other words, qualified men and women continue to be willing to take the risk and serve in the space program.

So, both the financial burden and the risk seem under control for continuing to send humans to space.

Molly K. Macauley

Baltimore

The death of the astronauts on the Columbia space shuttle was very tragic. However, we must press on and continue to launch missions into space.

NASA needs to do everything it can to find out what caused Columbia to explode. And until it comes up with an explanation and a solution that will prevent such an accident from happening again, NASA needs to go slow and not rush back into space.

But manned space flights will always be worth the risk, and men and women will always be willing to take that risk.

We have come too far to stop now. We should not give up because mistakes were made or people died.

We should continue to explore our universe and to send up the safest shuttles we can.

Murphy Edward Smith

Baltimore

Confronted with the reality of physical limitations over the past 40 years, the great dream of space flight has, for all our hard-won successes, sadly faded. Now manned space flight is a national ego trip we should renounce - as harsh an awakening as that may be.

We Earth people are here, right now, with a planet to care for and no shortage of other challenges.

The vast distances of space, the limited speed of possible travel, the stresses of heat and vibration on materials, plus our great expertise in electronics and control mechanisms, all point in one direction - a focus on unmanned space flight.

NASA should function as a research organization, a resource for the aeronautical industry and for satellite communications organizations.

This is how NASA's contributions can be most meaningful - far into the future.

Jane Spencer

Baltimore

I pride myself on being fairly well-informed, but I have yet to see any benefits from manned or unmanned space flights. No new medicines, new planets or new life forms have been discovered.

In light of the mounting national and local deficits, the space program should be shelved and the money put to better use here on Earth.

Shirley Hopkins-Thomas

Owings Mills

NASA officials' plan to keep the space shuttle program flying until 2015 is the right decision. There is still much to be learned from the program.

But we need to develop an improved shuttle vehicle made of sterner stuff that will not collapse from old age.

Walter Boyd

Lutherville

I recommend continued support for the International Space Station.

Given recent political disputes between the United States and some European powers, I think the international cooperation required by the station is a good idea.

Of course, this means that the remaining shuttles must be made safe and put back into operation to continue the station's construction.

Patrick Kelly

Lutherville

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