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MONDAY, MARCH 28, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Consider technology gains before cutting NASA funds

Every year at federal budget time, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Marshall Space Flight Center take verbal, and sometimes financial, knocks from members of Congress.

Some congressmen question the value of the multibillion-dollar agency, especially since the space shuttle has been grounded.

The problems with cutting funds for NASA, however, go much deeper than getting the space shuttle back on track. The space program, and the research involved, have more than paid for themselves in leaps of technology motivated by the need to lighten spacecraft.

When the Gemini missions started in the 1960s, computers were cumbersome. A personal computer was unheard of, and most office computers took a specialized room to hold huge modules.

Miniaturization has been the key to the success of space missions. The same technology was made available to improve people's lives.

Technology used first in space has spread to earthbound equipment — everything from medical devices to vehicles.

Now, some of that technology will help others even before it goes into space.

Marshall Space Flight Center has been testing a water system that would recycle all moisture available on a spaceship. It would change sweat, respiration vapor and urine back into pure, drinkable water.

That experimental system will head soon to the Middle East to decontaminate wells ruined by Saddam Hussein and to tsunami-ravaged areas to desalinate wells and water systems contaminated by seawater.

If anyone questions the benefits of NASA and space experimentation, remind them that devices such as the cellular telephone might not be as advanced or even invented without NASA's need to make things smaller.

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