WHILE DESPERATELY PERUSING the news for anything not related to the coronavirus, or the economy, or the fact that we have one last chance to save our democracy—you know, the boring stuff—I read that NASA will be making a movie on the International Space Station, featuring Tom Cruise. The $150 billion laboratory orbits about 250 miles above the Earth, which is 250 miles farther than was necessary to achieve its principle scientific discovery: Camping in space is expensive.
I could have told them that.
If there were justice in this world, Tom Cruise would instead be making a movie at the Superconducting Super Collider, a much less costly project that could have produced innumerable scientific breakthroughs in physics. Plus, its site in north-central Texas is well known for its ample gravity and breathable air. But Congress canceled it mid-construction in 1993, and the U.S. instead spent more than 10 times as much on the space station.
The collider was my fave project in the 1980s. You want breakthroughs in understanding how our physical world came to be—I used to say at parties—you go with the collider. You want to watch an astronaut drink upside down—I would add, ruefully, at that same party—then the space station is your boondoggle of choice.
But since I lobbied for the project mainly at parties instead of, say, congressional budget hearings, we’re stuck with the space station. (Too late I realized my considerable influence was directed at the wrong people, just because they had beer.)