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Sunday, February 1, 2004

Space program benefits outweigh costs


Your voice: Jim Cannon

The "Your Voice" column "Refocus NASA, nation's priorities" (Jan. 29) exhibited a lack of understanding of NASA and its "priorities." While I'm sure that the experts at NASA are capable of understanding the technologies that would use alternative fuels, they are not in the business of inventing technologies. NASA contracts that work out to aerospace and other private, high-tech companies. NASA creates guidelines and manages the technology to achieve specific, space-related goals. That is their expertise.

The pitting of space exploration against the solution of social ills is a tired argument that has been around for decades. Over the nearly 40 years since the first human beings walked on the moon, NASA's budget has been slashed many times. Yet we still have the same problems, and we are getting nowhere. Is the solution of these problems really a more practical use of taxpayers' money?

Homeland security is a problem that needs NASA. Technologies that NASA demands are being employed to solve this problem. We are using space satellite technology to catch terrorists. Hopefully, this will enable us to thwart terrorists before they can succeed at something even more awful than Sept. 11.

If we were to embark on a program to land humans on Mars by 2020, it would cost between $500 billion and $1 trillion, spread over the next 16 years. Yet, by that same year, we can expect that health care for retiring baby boomers will exceed $1 trillion every year.

Last year, President Bush called for $1.5 billion for research for alternative fuels and associated technology. But alternative fuel technology will come our way only when economics decide it's time. Does anybody really believe that the major oil companies are just going to fade away into dust when the last barrel of oil has been extracted from the Earth? Taking resources away from NASA will not solve this problem.

Today, we are still reaping rewards from technology that was inspired by our efforts to put humans in space and on the moon. These are tangible rewards earned for what was one of the noblest projects our nation embarked upon.

We also gained priceless intangibles such as deepened national pride, stimulation of imagination and a greater understanding of nature. The money spent on Apollo and the money for future space exploration are insignificant by comparison.

Despite well-meaning sentiment, the education, health care and infrastructure establishments are proven, costly failures. In spite of the failed probes and lost lives, space exploration is a resounding success because it moves humanity forward. Funding for this should be given a much higher priority.

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Jim Cannon of Liberty Township, a retired Naval Reserve officer, is a pilot for a major airline.

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Speak out

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