Reality Check

THE SPACE STATION will be a boon to medicine if you believe the current rationale. Scrambling to fund the controversial $27 billion project, backers in Congress say astronauts working in near-weightlessness may be able to find cures for everything from diabetes to osteoporosis. Says Representative Ralph Hall (D-Tex.): "For people languishing in cancer wards, it's their only hope."

IN REALITY, the space station has a better chance of finding Klingons than finding cures. True, research in orbit is needed to discover ways of preventing astronauts from losing bone and becoming nauseated--a prerequisite for a journey to Mars. But the $2 billion-plus spent yearly on the station would pay for thousands of grants to earthbound biomedical research projects, whose chances of success are much greater and much more cost-effective. Any station-based research in materials science or astronomy could be done far more cheaply and effectively by small spacecraft. John Carey

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