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Letters to the Editor 

Week of February 26, 2003


The Columbia disaster is no reason to ax the space agency: I am an aerospace engineer and a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the National Space Society. Smith's article on getting rid of NASA and letting universities run space missions is very one-sided and lacks the respect that NASA deserves ["Abort. Abort.," Matt Smith, Feb. 12].

While I agree that there is a lot of bureaucracy in NASA, it does not justify using the Columbia accident or a negative audit to suggest getting rid of the space agency. Smith fails to mention that the NASA budget has been slashed considerably from the days of Apollo, and the agency now is expected to do more with less. The problem is that NASA is a political entity and not a scientific one; it has to beg for every dollar it gets, and requires a huge bureaucracy to make sure everything is 100 percent perfect. Any screw-up and there goes the budget for next year and any new projects.

The Challenger accident occurred because of a political decision to not wait another day, even though the engineers recommended against launching. NASA has had to cut support staff to continue with science projects on a dwindling budget.

Smith woefully disregards the shuttle's capabilities. No other space vehicle in the world can do what it does. In the '80s the Russians destroyed some of their satellites out of fear that the shuttle would capture them and bring them to Earth. I once interviewed a systems engineer on the X-33 (the unmanned shuttle replacement that was canceled for budget reasons) and when she compared it to the shuttle the bottom line was that the shuttle was by far more powerful. The replacement was cheaper and faster, but not better.

Unfortunately, the shuttle does too much, and in doing so is very expensive. I wish Smith could have given some credit to the shuttle, or demanded a replacement designed solely for getting people up to the space station. If the shuttle was hit by orbiting debris or if insulation fell off and damaged the wing, this accident is either an act of God or due to a faulty part. The entire organization is not to blame and should not be blamed.

Moreover, universities do not have the expertise that NASA does, and they have just as much bureaucracy. The hit in the U.S. launch market has nothing to do with the shuttle, unless you think NASA is responsible for U.S. launch companies. In fact, the Europeans have caught up with us after 30 years, so they're using their own rockets instead of ours; no big surprise. We won't get our market lead back unless we develop some entirely new technology in which rockets aren't propelled by chemicals.

Anthony Logan
Mountain View

Auto Focus

I'd rather read about the antipasto than your life, hon: When is your new local food reviewer, Meredith Brody, going to start reviewing local food ["Berlin by the Bay," Eat, Feb. 19]? Her very first piece was about her, her, her, and it seems to be the theme ever since.

I am happy for her that she goes to the movies with her nephew and spends some quality time with Mommy and Poppy. But really, I could not care less. She seems unable to fill her space without boring us with her oh-so-interesting life, or some irrelevant cutesy fluff. This week, in a desperate attempt to fill space (or is it a desperate attempt to expense every one of her meals?) she connects the art of Richter, The New Yorker (I subscribe, so I do not need a digest), and a film festival at the Castro with four restaurants. To top it off, she wastes a paragraph copying word for word the German-to-English translation from her first menu. This is either useless if you are not fluent in German, or patronizing if you are. She is not, and her note-taking could improve, as the German is filled with typos (hausegemachtern, for one).

Of course, the reader does not get any sense of whether he should bother to visit these places (or whether he should bother reading further columns, since the most he could learn is the date of Chester's 11th birthday or Calvin Trillin's favorite place).

If your writer were not so self-focused, she would have noticed that Walzwerk has been reviewed already -- even though it always deserves the positive mention. Worst, last week's Jeanty at Jack's ["Museum of Food," Eat, Feb. 12] had been reviewed extensively less than a year ago. Oh, but it's not about the food, it's about her experience at Jack's as a kid. I forgot.

Cedric Westphal
Noe Valley


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