In another node, robwicks is correct in the numerical estimation (NASA does routinely go way over budget), however NASA is also exploring a largely unknown environment, and it's difficult to anticipate the costs of the unknown. Before demanding the dissolution of our one and only agency dedicated to space exploration, it's important to note that the private sector has already become involved, and, unfortunately, is still unable to succeed. (Witness the most recent of failures, the Delta Clipper - a single-stage VTOL that tipped over, exploded and burned.) Until such time as the private sector can reproduce the inventive genius of the Wright Brothers, the government must remain involved.

We are all saddened by the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew, and some of us still remember Challenger. Fewer still remember the names Grissom, White and Chaffee - but without their sacrifices and the incredible efforts of the entire aerospace programme, we would not have reaped the benefits: world-wide broadcasts, cell phone technology, massive improvements in audio and imaging technologies... In fact, it's solely thanks to the Space Programme that we even have an accurate topographical map of the Earth! Naysayers declare that risking "precious human lives" is unacceptable - but what about all the lives that have been saved, thanks to improvements in heart pumps, UV protection, and even rescue equipment! Countless lives have been saved thanks to modern advances in surgical equipment, firefighting gear and other lifesaving devices.

While the cost in money may be great, the benefits to humanity are far greater. Keep the Space Programme!

tdent says "All those benefits (for which it would be more convincing if you gave verifiable sources) could just as well have been developed without sending *people* into space. You are assuming that without *manned* space travel, no space technology would ever have developed. But this is hardly an automatic assumption. Most of the useful things in space are unmanned - your task is to defend specifically why people should be there too."

To refute tdent a bit:
Most of the useful things in spaced are unmanned - but they got there because someone put them there. And in many cases, human interaction is a necessity in the proper deployment, capture and repair of those - the Hubble telescope is a perfect example of this. Human engineering is not yet sufficiently "perfect" to create a robotic system that can substitute for human flexibility and ingenuity when dealing with unknown or unexpected variables. In Mercury 4, Gemini 8 and Apollo 13 the ability of the crews to react to unexpected situations salvaged the missions - missions that would have been completely lost if unmanned.

Human presence in space is also a requirement if we are ever going to understand and be prepared for the rigors of long-term space travel - the next great leap. True, we are in a bit of a rut with the current Shuttle-to-ISS runs, but if we are ever to expand our horizons beyond the moon and to the stars, we must first conquer the space around us.

There are those that feel that any loss of life is an unacceptable cost. If that were true, we should never have explored beyond our own caves. "Those who live like turtles see little but their own shells." Life, in itself, is a risk, and to advance ourselves as a species, we must explore and expand our horizons, ever outward, at the risk of stagnating and dying. Truly, however, the choice is not mine. Ultimately, the decision is made by the astronauts - it is THEIR choice to climb into those capsules and Shuttles, and they do it in the hopes of advancing mankind. As Mercury 7 astronaut Gus Grissom said: "If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."