Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, contends that opposition to NASA's proposed space station is mostly from scientists seeking to steal its money for their own projects.

"Mostly it comes out of scientists who think that if you kill the space station, they'll get that money for their favorite science project here on Earth. Well, they're kidding themselves," Garn, the ranking Republican on the Senate subcommittee overseeing NASA funding, told the Deseret News.The comments came during a tumultuous week for the space station, where it has been attacked as useless by scientist-advisers to NASA but strongly supported by the National Space Council, headed by Vice President Dan Quayle.

A tough battle for funding in Congress looms and may be the space station's last chance for survival - even though it has been called a key to future space exploration.

Garn - who rode on the space shuttle Discovery and is probably NASA's strongest ally in Congress - noted that Congress last year ordered NASA to cut the space station's budget by $6 billion through 1996 and build a smaller facility.

Garn says he thinks such orders were a mistake, but NASA has managed to come up with a good design anyway.

"A full-scale space station would have been much better. . . . I'm not criticizing NASA, I'm criticizing Congress," Garn said. "I think NASA under the mandates from Congress has done an extremely good job."

The downsized version is large enough for only a four-person crew instead of eight and would not have as much power for experiments as originally designed. But Garn said it is being built in modules, which could be added on and eventually bring the station back to its originally planned size if Congress chooses.

But a report disclosed last week by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council said the scaled-down version could not meet the basic needs for the station's two stated purposes - research in life sciences necessary for humans to adjust to zero gravity for long-term space exploration and a lab to study processing better crystals and metals in weightlessness.

Garn notes that was considered a bombshell by many. "But if you knew this particular group, they've been saying that since the word `go.' "

He added, "If you were building the space station just for microgravity research, you could say, `Yes that's not a very effective way to do it.' "

But he said the station is for far more.