I wonder whether Henry Mitchell's "dreamy-faced loons (who tend to be space enthusiasts by nature)" are as far out of touch with reality as Mitchell himself seems to be {"Outer Space and Its Proper Place," Style, June 12}.

Unfortunately for Mitchell and his ilk, space exploration, like rock 'n' roll, is here to stay. The frontier has been examined at too great a price to too many nations, and too much good has come from the effort for any "sane person" to wish for us to turn our backs. (The weather reports that aid Mitchell's gardening constitute only one of the many benefits of non-military exploitation of space.)

It should also be obvious that, with all the talk about Star Wars and ASATs, the militarization of space is well under way. To think that we can halt that militarization by sitting on our duffs is itself a dream. Even if we could vote down our military's plans for SDI, we have no voting rights in Japan, China, India, the Soviet Union or the European Economic Community, all of which have space programs and all of which have a military interest in space.

If we can't halt the militarization of space, what should we do? Should we lump everything space-related together with SDI, as Mitchell does, and then stomp our feet and turn our backs to the stars while all the militaries in the world, ours included, fill the heavens with zap guns? Or should we do everything in our public power to ensure that the inevitable militarization is countered by a dominant peaceful and civilian presence?

Mitchell's right about one thing: the peaceful uses of space are often difficult to justify. But the ways of peace have always been harder to see than the hot-headed ways of war.

So every time one of NASA's silly, cost-ineffective, peaceful programs gets the ax for lack of public support, a few more highly trained personnel find themselves out of a job with only one potential employer -- the Department of Defense; expensive equipment is put on the market with only one potential buyer -- the Department of Defense; and in order to fill the void left by that inconsequential peaceful program, NASA can find only one cost-effective replacement -- a defense-related program.

So keep it up, Mitchell: ridicule the dreamers of peaceful uses for space; take another cheap shot at the grounded shuttle; see if you can't help ax another program like the Halley's Comet mission; proclaim the proposal for a joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. mission to Mars not worth the bother. Then scratch your head and wonder why an H-bomb-fueled particle-beam defense system gets deployed in two years instead of 25.

-- Jim Schulz

Good Lord! What got into Henry Mitchell? He must have run into some space lunatic with bad manners and a worse disposition who offended him deeply. I can think of no other explanation for how Mitchell managed to connect the space program with a whole bunch of America's current ills. That's quite a trick; all the more so because he has demonstrated he knows almost nothing about the subject of space. I mean, Vanna White and the space program? Fawn and Tammy and space? Is the man sniffing airplane glue or what?

Mitchell reminds me of the hopeless reactionaries at the turn of the century who thought airplanes were interesting novelties that would never be more than toys for the idle rich and the crazy. He seems to find the comparison between space explorers and the exploits of Magellan and Columbus especially irritating. Mitchell forgets that, like those visionaries who speak of the possibilities of space, the explorers and colonizers of our past either had only the vaguest notions of what their efforts would lead to or were driven by incentives that later turned out to be the wrong reasons for exploring and settling new worlds. Our own history of settlement and development is replete with myths and misdirected visions. Americans first went to California for gold, and ended up founding what is arguably our most dynamic and diverse state instead. Others went to Oregon to farm, completely bypassing what Daniel Webster dubbed "The Great American Desert," which became the world's breadbasket.

The "dreamy-faced loons," as Mitchell chooses to call space enthusiasts, may well have some of the specific reasons for going into space all wrong, as did their ancestors who developed the American continent. But in light of past experience, it would be both stupid and tragic if we didn't go into space in a big way, and instead chose to heed the advice of perennial wet blankets such as Henry Mitchell. -- R. Adrian Reilly