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TUESDAY, APRIL 11, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Shuttle birthday party reflects cracks at NASA

One might think that given NASA's success since the 1960s, the space agency would be having a grand celebration to honor the 25th anniversary of the first shuttle flight.

The celebration, though, is muted not so much because the shuttle fleet is shopworn and the program is starting to wind down, but because NASA's future is as unsettled as the first attempt at earth orbit.

The bold swagger at NASA seems to be gone. In four years, NASA will mothball the three remaining shuttles and the agency is yet to decide on conceptual design replacements.

"What we have ahead of us represents a challenge significantly greater than when we first went to the moon," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.

Ordinarily, the Right Stuff people would embrace the challenge with enthusiasm. But the lack of money depresses the gung-ho attitude.

Trying to keep its team together, keep the shuttles flying and paying for developing new moon and beyond vehicles on a $16.8 billion budget may not be enough money.

That is a lot of money but considering that the nation is spending $200 million each day on the war in Iraq, perhaps NASA is justified in being concerned about making it to Mars on a relative shoestring.

NASA is in transition, which has many of its skilled workers concerned about their personal futures and the agency worried about which workers may drift away if NASA doesn't leap quickly into getting ready for going back to the moon and to Mars.

The war has everyone's attention diverted from long-range planning. Keeping Congress and the public focused on space adventure while NASA goes though the exhaustive research and development is vital to the program.

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