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Saturday, February 08, 2003

A Space Shuttle that Looks Like America?
A black, a Jew, two women and one of them is Indian, and an Israeli. Sounds like James Watt's description of the Columbia crew. Normally, I wouldn't think much of this. I'm sure these people are quite talented and had a purpose in being aboard.

Or do they? Why is a school teacher scheduled on the next shuttle mission? Why was a school teacher on the Challenger when it exploded so spectacularly 17 short years ago? What the heck is a foreign national doing on our space ship?
I once knew a very nice woman who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is a rocket scientist and she was very upset with the Challenger crash because it upset her plans to go on the space shuttle. But the problem was that she is a paraplegic. It was her goal to be the first paraplegic in space.

Now, I find this to be a very bizarre goal. It's natural to want to go into space, our thirst for adventure is one of the greatest human traits, but what is so special about putting a crippled person in space? What is so special about sending a school teacher into space? Heck, the only baccalaureate degree easier than a teacher's degree is psychology, and that's not saying much. Teachers are generally the lowest in intelligence of any college graduate, though there are exceptions, so what does it prove to send a teacher into space? The stated reason is so that children are inspired. Inspired to get the lowliest education and still be allowed into the most premiere program the government offers? Some lesson that is.

Now, if the crippled person is going into space with private funding then I'm all for it, but the space shuttle is supposed to be a utilitarian vehicle and I'm footing the bill. I only want the best and brightest to earn their way aboard. Otherwise, why shouldn't I be there too? I'm not a septagenarian senator. I'm not a school teacher. I'm better than either of those categories.

One of the crewmembers on Columbia is best remembered for making a big mistake on an earlier mission. Why wasn't she cashiered from the corps? There are lots and lots of astronauts and aspiring astronauts out there that would love to replace her. Could it be simply because she's a woman? I wonder how many blunders a female school teacher would be allowed?

There is only one thing we can conclude from all of this. The space shuttle essentially flies itself and a talented crew really isn't critical to its operations. You can't do the job with monkeys, but you can do it with just about anyone, and so manning the vessel has become an exercise in political correctness, political patronage, and pork.

Has anyone else noticed that almost before all the pieces of Columbia had fallen to the ground politicians like Texas' Kay Bailey Hutchison were calling for more NASA funding? Only government programs use failure as evidence for a need to continue a program and spend even more money on it.

The shuttle program must be ended. It was a cockamamey idea that didn't work and it has long ago stopped being anything other than a very expensive vehicle to satiate the porcine appetites of politicians for big spending and big government programs.

Near Earth space missions are now economically vibrant and profitable. All the shuttle has done is under-cut private satellite launch services by subsidizing a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy.

NASA and the United States have conquered near Earth as a frontier. It is still dangerous, but no longer unknown. If NASA is to continue being a positive part of our society, it should concentrate on exploration of areas that aren't so well known. It should go to Mars with much more ambition with the goal of putting men on its ground. And once that is done reliably, it should leave it to private enterprise to use and begin to explore other places.

The only thing the Columbia crash teaches us is that which we already knew. Government has no business in providing mundane services that can be done better by private enterprise. Government should be confined to those things which require the use of force, like the military, and leave the rest of us alone.