Science: NASA, en Garde!

Europe's Ariane vs. the shuttle

Just offshore lies Devil's Island, once the world's most dreaded penal colony. A short distance away, piranha-infested rivers course through the rain forest. Yet out of this equatorial backwater on the steamy coast of French Guiana last week roared a gleaming, cream-colored three-stage rocket emblazoned with the flags of eleven European nations. The fiery liftoff, heard for miles around, was a noisy, jubilant awakening for an independent space effort in faraway Europe.

As the 155-ft.-long Ariane rocket rose into high earth orbit, it evoked multilingual cheers from technicians at...

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