IF ALL had gone well with the US space program this year—as of course it has not—science, and medicine in particular, might have obtained considerably more data about the extraterrestrial environment and human ability to cope with it. In a late December editorial entitled "1986: A Vintage Year for Space Science," the director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala, opined: "If all goes as planned, it appears that the coming year will be an extraordinarily good one for space science" (Science 1985;230:1327). Adding to that outlook, although not specifically mentioned in the editorial, was NASA's plan to average more than one space shuttle mission a month during 1986.
But, just like the actual dark clouds that threaten space launches, figurative clouds were gathering over the agency. Subsequent testimony suggests bureaucratic problems and cost concerns. Then, 28 days into the new year, seven