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Archive for Thursday, June 4, 1998

HAZARDOUS DUTY

June 4, 1998

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NASA astronuats probably will be happy to bid farewell for good to the Mir space station.

Officials of the United States space program surely will breath a sigh of relief this month when the last NASA astronaut returns home from the Russian space station Mir.

The American shuttle Discovery blasted off from Cape Canaveral Tuesday and is scheduled to dock with Mir Thursday. Among other tasks, Discovery is to pick up Andrew Thomas, the seventh and final NASA astronaut to make an extended stay on Mir. Russian cosmonauts are scheduled to continue flying aboard Mir through 1999. Then the space station will be abandoned and allowed to burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

Some of its former occupants may say ``good riddance.''

Missions aboard Mir have not been without incident. In fact, NASA officials considered not leaving more U.S. astronauts on board the space station after a string of problems last year, including a collision with a supply ship, a fire on Mir, power failures and repeated computer problems. Not all of the problems were life-threatening, but NASA officials had to weigh the risk of losing an astronaut against the value of the research being done on board the space station.

Assuming the current mission is a success, all seven of the long-term NASA guests aboard Mir will have been safely returned to Earth. And the research they did will contribute greatly to the next large space initiative, an international space station. Construction on that project is scheduled to begin later this year.

As with all space travel, risks will be involved. NASA officials and astronauts are aware of and accept them as part of the challenging jobs they do. Still, it seems everyone involved in the trouble-prone Mir missions will be relieved to leave that chapter of the U.S. space program behind.

In English, please

Trying to translate government documents into simple English won't be an easy job, but any improvement will be appreciated.

Other jargon-laden businesses and organizations should take a lesson from the federal government's effort to translate its communications into plain English.

Vice President Al Gore Monday announced a campaign against indecipherable government language. Active voice will be preferred over passive and ``short is better.'' Gore said government rules that now take 72 words to explain could be reduced to six words. A phrase like ``means of egress'' could be translated into something easier to understand, like ``exit routes.''

Considerable attention has been focused in recent years on producing government publications in Spanish and other foreign languages to make them more accessible to Americans. Ironically, many English-speaking Americans would find documents printed in Spanish about as easy to understand as those written in the current convoluted government-ese.

All Americans should applaud the latest effort to simplify government language, and other entities -- such as schools and local governments -- should follow suit. The effort will save time and money for both the authors and the readers.

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