Putting NASA's Budget in Earthly Terms

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John McCann offers a commentary on space exploration and how its funding might be spent down on Earth. McCann is a columnist for The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C.

ED GORDON, host:

NASA announced yesterday that they are grounding all future shuttle flights for the foreseeable future.

Unidentified Man: If we had understood it before we flew, then we would have made modifications to it, but, apparently, there's still more understanding that has to occur. And we will go do that and do it diligently. Until we're ready, we won't go fly again.

GORDON: There is concern about a large chunk of foam that fell off the Discovery's fuel tank as it made its way into space. The incident is eerily similar to what happened a little over two years ago with the space shuttle Columbia when a large piece of foam debris broke off of the fuel tank and struck one of its wings. The shuttle crashed on its return to Earth. NASA officials say in spite of the latest setback, Discovery should still make a safe return. As it carries on its mission, our commentator John McCann wonders whether the billions of dollars spent on this shuttle mission could have been utilized better.

JOHN McCANN:

I was at a Honda dealership when folks started gathering around the TV. The space shuttle has lifted off. I craned my neck and watched Discovery go up, up, up and--Pfew!--it didn't explode. Now will somebody at Mission Control please tell shuttle commander Eileen Collins to turn that thing around and come home? Read my lips--Wait, this is radio. Hear my lips. More than $1 billion--Did you hear me?--Billion, with a `B'--that's what it's costing to send the shuttle back into space. Now I'm all for education and science and discovering new technology. Cooked some Egg Beaters just the other day in a Teflon frying pan that's supposed to be a byproduct of the space program. But when we're spending billions of dollars for a glorified Yankee Doodle fireworks show, it's time for a reality check.

In case you're wondering, I was not at the Honda place shopping for a new car. Spent $400 for an oil change and replacing an axle on my ride so it would pass state inspection. Put a big dent in my paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Had to do it, though. Got to get to work every day. On the other hand, the space shuttle's a luxury. One purpose of the mission this time is delivering supplies and equipment to the International Space Station. Huh? Stocking a deluxe apartment in the sky? And we got people struggling to keep up with their mortgages. And that's if they've been lucky enough in the first place to escape the renter's trap.

See, that's the kind of stuff that bothers me. I mean, here in America we have the capability to fiddle with the coordinates and somehow zero in on a precise spot in outer space, but when it comes to the war on terrorism, we can't even track down a weary man hiding out in caves somewhere in the Middle East. Now if we must send the shuttle into space, how about a little across-the-board affirmative action? Eileen Collins is the shuttle's first female commander. But how come none of the crew members on this mission are black? And did any of the brothers with detailing services get to bid on power-washing the Discovery shuttle? I mean, come on. Fair is fair.

GORDON: John McCann is a columnist for The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina.

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