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'Earthbound Thinking' About Space Shuttle

February 22, 1986

In reference to the recent shuttle catastrophe, Prof. Allen Klinger of the UCLA Engineering Department writes (Letters Feb. 4) that "power is being used in evil ways," wasting "money that could help build the public good." As an example of this public good he cites the "imagery obtained from unmanned space probes" and gives this imagery the credit for a remarkable fraction of mankind's recent technological advances.

Klinger, who is a veteran of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, should be ashamed of himself for his earthbound thinking and his lack of vision. Does he not understand the information that would be coming from Uranus right now if it were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin out there? Instead we have a computer built with archaic 1970s technology, being kept alive by ingenuity despite several minor component failures.

As a person who is involved with engineering and the space program, surely he understands how incredibly limited a computer's capabilities are. Shuttle astronauts recently repaired a satellite in space, a satellite that was crippled by a failure of one of Klinger's revered robots. I should think this would be evidence enough to demonstrate the absolute necessity of a manned space program.

But even if we had perfect robots we would still need a manned space program. Mankind is going to travel to the stars; only a few centuries' worth of engineering details remain to be worked out. Today we are taking the first steps toward that goal, and those steps are inevitable despite hidebound thinking. Lives will be lost along the path, because that is one of the prices of exploration.

To those who call this noble effort evil, there is no better answer than Capt. Robert Scott's last journal, written when he knew his Antarctic expedition would not reach safety:

"I do not regret this journey; we took risks, we knew we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint."


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