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'Faster, better, cheaper' shot at NASA misses mark

Thank you for your attention to the complex debate over the merits of NASA's "faster, better, cheaper" policy ("Martian mix-up, an overtaxed NASA?", Nov. 12).

Please be aware, though, that in building a case against "faster, better cheaper," the current status of the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) project is misrepresented.

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Although unanticipated delays have kept FUSE in the checkout phase longer than expected, it is already providing spectroscopic observations in far ultraviolet light that are unprecedented in their sensitivity, detail, and resolution.

For instance, FUSE has already produced more high resolution far-ultraviolet spectroscopic data on active galaxies and their nuclei than is available from nine years of Hubble Space Telescope observations.

We still have some work to do to reach our full capability, but we are confident that we can adjust our procedures and FUSE's equipment to do just that.

The depiction of FUSE as a mission in trouble because of the "faster, better, cheaper" philosophy is inaccurate and misleading. The statement that the FUSE satellite "...has been unable to properly focus its mirrors on distant targets" is not only technically inaccurate, but untrue. Focus has not been the issue, but rather the alignments of certain optical components, and these problems are more of the "growing pains" variety, not mission threatening.

William Blair, Baltimore, Md. FUSE chief of mission planning Kenneth Sembach, deputy project scientist

Missile-defense common sense

Regarding "Forcing a rethink of global security," (Nov. 12): The article did an excellent job of pointing out the obstacles confronting the US desire to build a national missile-defense system. By pointing out these impediments, the article amplified both the need for the system and the need to stay on course with plans to build it.

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The Clinton administration's plan to build a first-generation antiballistic missile network is a good first step toward providing Americans with protection from the possibility of a nuclear strike from North Korea or other rogue nations, such as Iran. And while the US makes every effort to convince Russia that the missile shield isn't designed to defend us from them, Americans cannot ignore the fact that Russia continues to flounder in political chaos and economic collapse, heightening the possibility that nuclear weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists or sold to outlaw regimes for hard cash.

The decision as to whether a national missile-defense system is needed basically comes down to a matter of where to place your trust: in the restraint of such regimes as North Korea and Iran or in your own defense system. An ounce of prevention, after all, is worth a pound of cure.

Phillip Thompson, Arlington, Va.

Math matters

Thank you for your article about college math reforms ("Calculating a new approach to college math," Nov. 9). As an eighth-grade teacher who has been working to reform my own curriculum for about 10 years, I recognize the fact that if colleges and high schools don't reform, it makes it really difficult for those people teaching below those levels to do anything very different. The "moving symbols around" view of math prevails.

We're dealing with a new breed of students and a new millennium. Will math be the last subject area to recognize these facts? The article made a lot of sense to me and will help me talk to parents.

Joan Carlson, Mendocino, Calif.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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