The shuttle is bound for a Sunday rendezvous with the first component of the controversial and costly space station, which was launched earlier by the Russians. The crew of Endeavour will try to attach a connecting passageway to that first piece. "When it happens it will be an engineering, logistical and administrative achievement," says Kluger, "but successfully constructing the station will be the same kind of achievement as sitting on a flagpole or swallowing goldfish." The space station program is eating up scarce space funding, and Kluger maintains the money would be better spent on unmanned space exploration and manned scientific missions beyond Earth's orbit, such as landing on Mars or returning to the Moon. Those liftoffs don't make great photo-ops, but they make terrific science.
It takes a lot to dissuade Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Undeterred by Thursday's scuttled launch of the shuttle Endeavour because of a minor glitch, she returned at 3:35 a.m. Friday to watch the spacecraft blast off from Cape Canaveral. But her public relations presence notwithstanding, the merits of the mission still remain questionable, according to TIME science writer Jeffrey Kluger.