SYNOPSIS: Krugman debates ex-astronaut and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) on manned space travel
CHARLES OSGOOD, host: The shuttle Columbia disaster has triggered a new round in the old debate about whether we should be sending humans into space. Representing Both Sides for us this morning are New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and United States Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who once flew a shuttle mission himself as a congressman.
(Footage of shuttle launch; Paul Krugman and Senator Bill Nelson)
OSGOOD: We begin with Paul Krugman.
Mr. PAUL KRUGMAN (The New York Times): Some commentators have suggested that the Columbia disaster marks the end of the whole space shuttle program. Let's hope they are right. Look, I still want to see humanity move into space and many people feel we should not retreat in the face of adversity, but the shuttle program didn't suddenly go wrong last weekend. It was a failure from the get-go.
(Footage of rocket launches)
Mr. KRUGMAN: (Voiceover) In fact, manned space flight in general is a bust. The key word here is 'manned.' Space flight in general has been a huge boon to mankind. It has advanced the cause of science. It's also done a lot to improve life here on Earth. But almost all of this payoff has come from unmanned missions.
(Footage of Columbia crew; unidentified shuttle crew at work)
Mr. KRUGMAN: (Voiceover) In space, you see, people are a nuisance. They're heavy. They need to breathe. Trickiest of all, as we've so tragically learned, they need to get back to Earth. One result is that manned space flight is extremely expensive. The shuttle was supposed to bring those costs down, but it didn't.
(Footage of shuttle launch; space station)
Mr. KRUGMAN: (Voiceover) The sad truth is that for many years, NASA has struggled to invent reasons for manned missions. It's an open secret that the only real purpose of the International Space State is to give us a reason to keep flying space shuttles. Does that mean people should never again go into space? Of course not. Technology marches on. Someday we'll have a better way to get people into orbit. At that point, it'll be worth rethinking the uses of space. I'm not giving up on space colonization, but our current approach, using hugely expensive rockets to launch a handful of people into space, where they have nothing much to do, is a dead end.
Senator BILL NELSON (Democrat, Florida): Three decades ago, our nation landed men on the moon, fulfilling our dream of boundless flight.
(Footage of lunar landing)
Sen. NELSON: (Voiceover) Neil Armstrong said that it was 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.' It was to be the first step on our way to Mars and beyond, towards new knowledge about our universe and discovering other life. But now we're in a debate about whether humans should even explore space. Well, my answer is, our curiosity compels us to explore the universe.
(Footage of unidentified shuttle crew)
Sen. NELSON: (Voiceover) Space flight will grow science, will grow education and will grow the economy. It will give greater meaning to the enrichment of life here on Earth. President Kennedy said that opening the vistas of space promised high cost and grave dangers, but he said 'This country was not built by those who rested.'
(Footage of rocket launch)
Sen. NELSON: (Voiceover) It's time to once again let our spirits soar to the heavens. But first, as we mourn this tragic loss, we need to find and fix the cause, and NASA needs to get its financial house in order. The government needs to make space exploration a priority. We need goals: a lunar base, humans on Mars, balanced with unmanned exploration.
(Footage of Mars; photographs of the heavens)
Sen. NELSON: (Voiceover) It's up to us to continue the greatest adventure, to reach for the stars.
OSGOOD: Both Sides from United States Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
Originally broadcast, 2.9.03