The final frontier

February 20, 2009

Those of us who are trying to keep track of how the federal government is spending money might want to jot down the $591 million NASA is launching into space early next month in a search for planets that are like our own. “Like our own,” in this case, means planets that orbit a sun at a distance that would allow life-sustaining conditions. The space craft, with its powerful telescope and cameras, won’t be looking for life in space, but only for planets that might sustain life if there were any, given factors like density and gravity. This project is going to take 3 1/2 years. Presumably, NASA will find the money to actually look for life sometime after that – unless, of course, the mission doesn’t find any “planets like our own.” NASA, one presumes, regards as a temporary setback the fact that we’re having trouble sustaining life on this planet

Those of us who were living when the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite might appreciate the fact that there is no conversation about this latest mission, which is to get off the ground, as it were, on March 5. Back then, we were so embarrassed by the Soviet achievement that any progress in the American space program was news. When the first manned moon mission was launched it got more attention than the final episode of “Dallas.” Now we don’t care, which in the present economic climate is probably good for NASA.

“Dallas”? It was a TV series.

Never mind.

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