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Monday, February 3, 2003



[ OUR OPINION ]

Don’t let disaster
shake commitment
to space exploration


THE ISSUE

Seven explorers were lost when the space shuttle Columbia fell to Earth Saturday.


Dates that will live in infamy: Once again, as on Dec. 7, 1941, as on Jan. 28, 1986, and as on Sept. 11, 2001, American complacy in the status quo has been shattered. There will certainly be a long, detailed and thorough investigation of the Columbia catastrophe, although it's unlikely any villains will be unearthed. We were up against the laws of physics.

Like the Boeing 747, the space shuttle is a 1970s design, and uses 30-year-old aerospace-technology concepts. It has been continually upgraded and modified, but these changes are patches on a design older than many of the engineers now working at NASA.

The oldest shuttle, Columbia was built in the late '70s and the first to enter orbit, in 1981. Saturday was its 28th flight. Engineers guessed that the shuttles were good for 100 flights, although that was revised downward. Columbia was last overhauled in 1999.

The space shuttle is the primary vehicle servicing the International Space Station. Saturday's accident, which took the lives of seven brave astronauts, may place the future of the increasingly expensive station in doubt. In the meantime, the remaining three shuttles are grounded.

Thanks to the whims of Congress and various presidents, NASA has had a stop-and-go engineering program to replace the shuttle with a kind of orbital airplane designed to move people into space rather than payloads.

Under the first President Bush, policymakers canceled production of the craft, citing the great expense. The current President Bush scuttled plans to upgrade future shuttle-safety features earlier this year, making do instead by cutting back on scheduled flights. NASA responded by planning to use the shuttle past 2020 -- nearly a 50-year lifespan for the vehicles -- by making safety and equipment modifications, if approved.

The physical stresses placed on the shuttle during launch and recovery are immense, and the 1970s concept for the craft resulted in a hardy, but barely maneuverable, heat-deflecting aerial brick. The tremendous speed with which the shuttle exits and enters the atmosphere means that a small structural failure could have disastrous consequences. And apparently it has.

Manned space flight is inherently dangerous. The scientist-explorers who fly the shuttle accept this, for the rewards are great. A serious replacement for the shuttle design is needed, but given current demands on the federal budget, this may be difficult or impossible.

America is a nation of seekers. The technological discoveries made exploring the heavens are largely responsible for American scientific and economic leadership. President Bush would be wise to follow through on his promise that Saturday's tragedy will not halt our exploration of space.


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Link tax credit firmly
to jobs and training


THE ISSUE

A proposal to give Ko Olina resort developers a large tax credit is revived.


GOVERNMENTS commonly offer tax credits to stimulate fresh economic development in a broad segment of a desirable industry and Hawaii is no exception. So the support of state lawmakers and Governor Lingle for a $75 million tax exemption to Ko Olina developers isn't a surprise.

Nonetheless, because the credit is so narrowly targeted as to amount to a government subsidy, state leaders should insist on more than promises from the developers they will provide training for workers. Further, the governor and legislators should require a firm program for travel-industry management education that would result in higher-paying jobs.

Ko Olina developers won legislative approval for the tax credits last year, but the bill was rejected by Governor Cayetano because he viewed it as a subsidy and because tax credits generally go to new industries, not established businesses like tourism. The credit also was opposed by the state Tax Department, but with a new administration in place, the department has reversed its position.

In exchange for the $75 million credit, developers say their projects will create 2,000 needed jobs to Leeward Oahu and 10,000 temporary positions in construction work. In addition to hotels and time-sharing units, they will build an aquarium and a marine science facility that would expand tourism on Oahu beyond Waikiki and would generate tax revenue to make up for the credit.

Developers say they will commit to establishing a travel industry management campus at the resort in conjunction with the University of Hawaii -- although no agreement has yet been made with the university -- through a memorandum of understanding separate from the legislation.

The program would be essential in preparing residents for job opportunities not limited to house-cleaning or groundskeeping. The tax credits are a gamble that the resort will stimulate further development on the economically depressed Leeward coast. State leaders should increase their odds by obtaining more than a promise from the developers.



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Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791; fbridgewater@starbulletin.com
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768; mrovner@starbulletin.com
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762; lyoungoda@starbulletin.com

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748; mpoole@starbulletin.com
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533; jflanagan@starbulletin.com

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