In the wake of the Columbia disaster [front page, Feb. 2], I join in the call for a review of NASA -- not only of its safety policies, but of the overall worth of its programs.
NASA has offered little in the way of solid scientific achievement after more than 20 years of the space shuttle program. Billions of dollars have been spent on experiments, but to what end?
NASA programs used to be, and to some people still are, symbols of pride in American technology. But without solid benefits for Americans and the rest of the world, the money NASA receives for the shuttle program and the international space station would generate more pride by better funding education, health care or clean-energy research.
Although the space shuttle is a technological marvel, it combines two inconsistent goals by launching both humans and payloads into orbit. Every launch puts 100 tons into orbit only to return it to Earth.
We need to develop a space plane for human spaceflight and a national launch system for heavy payloads. This would provide the necessary infrastructure for programs such as the international space station, returning to the moon and manned exploration of Mars.
If NASA continues with its plans to use the shuttle for 30 more years, don't expect significant advances in our space program.
It is disappointing, though not surprising, that within 24 hours of the loss of Columbia, the witch hunt began. Was it the shrinking budget? Outsourced and careless contractors? While a search for the cause of the accident is necessary and healthy, the tone of the search is discouraging.
NASA would never risk the lives of astronauts unnecessarily. As we prepare to lay blame, let us not forget the inherently dangerous endeavor astronauts undertake. Spaceflight, much like life, can never be made 100 percent safe.