Up, Up, and a Waste?

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BAIKONUR, Kazakstan: In Russian, Zarya means sunrise, and as the newly launched capsule of that name settled into Earth orbit Friday, the age of the 16-nation, $40 billion International Space Station had irrevocably dawned. "Now we only have 44 launches to go," joked NASA chief Daniel Goldin after the launch. "But because of the trust and mutual respect... the International Space Station is going to be a reality." Too bad few outside of NASA consider that good news.

The monstrous ISS project is regularly pilloried in the press as an overpriced, scientifically redundant space nightmare -- and the very antithesis of NASA's "better, faster, cheaper" ethos that had the world gazing Mars-ward in July 1997. But if NASA's first job is to entrance us, isn't a sprawling space station better than some dinky cut-rate robot? "There's always something intrinsically cooler about space flight with people, rather than unmanned missions," says TIME space correspondent Jeffrey Kluger. "But from a science perspective, it's doubtful whether this kind of orbital flagpole-sitting is going to accomplish anything of value." Of course, that's roughly what they said about John Glenn.