It's time for Congress to bite the bullet and cancel the Freedom manned-space station. Conceived in 1984 during the Reagan Administration to be a permanently manned "hotel" in space costing only a few billion dollars, it is rapidly turning into a $100 billion bed-and-breakfast. Proceeding with the program is a bad idea the nation can't afford.

The original purpose of the manned space station was to serve as a jumping-off point for programs to colonize the moon or send astronauts to Mars, either program to cost several hundred billion dollars. The station also was to function as a limited research platform. The reasons behind both objectives have largely evaporated. The colonization effort makes no sense because no one can justify such huge expenditures for benefits--if any--that are only marginal. And the continuous downscaling of the station to match smaller appropriations has left it virtually useless forresearch.

To be sure, we need space research so that new technology developed can be pumped into U. S. industry and help it regain a competitive edge. But there are far better and cheaper ways to do it--such as unmanned space platforms, which can be periodically tended by the manned space shuttle. These research projects could be started soon, while Freedom wouldn't be ready for nearly a decade. That's important in the space research race under way with Germany and Japan.

Keeping the space station program going means that more beneficial earthbound projects can't be undertaken. Congress should do taxpayers as well as the national space program a service by ending it now.

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