Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, is tired of the NASA bashing that seems to be dominating press coverage of the U.S. space program.
Garn made his remarks during a question-and-answer session at the Utah Associated Municipal Power System's annual meeting Wednesday.Garn was especially critical of the focus on recent delays in space shuttle flights.
"After the Challenger disaster America demanded better safety," Garn said. "You can't have it both ways - either you want to be safer or you want more flights."
Garn was not critical over the demand for safety. In an emotion-choked voice he recalled the difficulty of entering a hangar at Cape Canaveral just hours after the Challenger disaster to face the families of those who died in the accident.
"It was one of the hardest things I ever did," Garn said.
"We had 52 manned missions without killing anyone," Garn said, "but no one talks about that. Space is a hostile environment, it is not safe. But everyone who goes into space is a volunteer. No one has ever been drafted to fly into space."
Garn said that while NASA has made mistakes, they are minor in comparison with the technological advancements and other achievements resulting directly from the U.S. space program.
"Unfortunately, it's the mistakes that get the attention," Garn said.
The result of the media focus is the virtual "gutting" of the space budget, Garn said. The most seriously impacted part of the program will be the proposed space station. Budget cuts in that program will produce a scaled-down station that will have little long-range benefit for the space program, Garn said.
Garn said a program that has accounted for less than 1 percent of the national budget has resulted in more than 10,000 important medical devices, including the heart pacemaker.
"Now, we will be spending more on food stamps this year than on NASA," Garn said.