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The shuttle's problems are also a source of grief to planners of another major scientific effort: the placing in orbit around earth of a ten-ton, 96-in. space telescope. Scanning the heavens above the obscuring atmosphere, and radioing back its findings, the robot telescope could greatly extend astronomy's observable universe, allowing stargazers to see farther and deeper into space. The telescope might even be able to pick out the faint traces of planets orbiting nearby stars.
Until now, says J.P.L.'s Murray, the U.S. has been the unquestioned leader in such activities. Interplanetary space, he notes, has been virtually "an American lake." But he and others fear that with the dearth of new programs, the U.S. could lose groundespecially in relation to the U.S.S.R., which space experts, like military men, are concerned about. Although the Soviets have not fared well in their unmanned explorations, except for landings on Venus, they are surpassing the U.S. in manned space projects. By launching men into orbit every few months, they have accumulated nearly twice as many man-hours in earth orbit as the U.S. Warns Senator Harrison Schmitt, a geologist and former astronaut soon to become chairman of the Senate's space subcommittee: "The Russians are ahead on the knowledge of how people can perform in space, and they are ahead on will and purpose."
Both he and Murray are pressing Ronald Reagan's incoming Administration to pay more attention to space. In an attempt to convince Washington that there is a large popular constituency for space programs, Murray has joined with Sagan in forming a new lobbying effort, called the Planetary Society, that will seek to promoteas "the ultimate adventure" exploration of the solar system, the search for planets and attempts to communicate with extraterrestrial life.
Pressure for a greater role in space is also coming from the military. Fearing Soviet strides in the development of killer satellites and other threatening products of space technology, the Pentagon is looking for new ways to meet this challenge. One tactic has been to tap the resources of such places as J.P.L. Says Pentagon Research and Engineering Chief William Perry: "The Russians regularly build more tanks and planes than we do. The only option open to us is exploiting our technological advantages. An area of tremendous advantage is space."