USA Today: Posted on Mon, Jul. 24, 2006

Space exploration

Now that Discovery is back, let's keep the space shuttles on the ground ("Discovery lands safely after smooth mission," News, Tuesday).

NASA has budgeted more than $32 billion to continue flying the space shuttle and International Space Station over the next five years. This is done with a vague justification that these operations are necessary stepping stones for human exploration and colonization of space. In an era of a thriving commercial space-launch market, it is hard to argue that there is a compelling public interest in manned space exploration, especially given the cost of energy.

Alternative energy sources and technology are a much more pressing public interest, including our 21st century moon shot: fusion energy. The United States has reluctantly committed just more than $1 billion to the international ITER project to research nuclear fusion energy over the next seven years. If we instead invested NASA's $32 billion manned spaceflight budget in fusion development, we could advance the technology necessary to power both the world and future space exploration with an essentially limitless supply of cheap energy fueled by nothing more than heavy water.

David Bookstaber, Berwyn, Pa.