Columbia: two new eras

Columbia's second journey into space-a beautiful lift-off after a delay caused by some minor snafus - opens two new eras for United States manned spaceflight.

For the first time, a used spacecraft is back in orbit again. Equally promising, it has begun testing hardware supplied by Canadian and European partners in what is in effect a joint venture. No longer does the United Sates face the challenge of space flight alone.

The manipulator arm from Canada is key equipment for off-loading satellites carried up by the shuttle, for manipulating them, and for recovering them. The pallet on which experiments are mounted and a self-contained set of biological experiments carried in the astronauts' cabin are forerunners of equipment for Europe's Spacelab. This is a chamber to be carried in the shuttle's equipment bay that will provide an environment in which ''ordinary people,'' not highly trained astronauts, can work in space.

Although the US bears most of the cost and effort of shuttle development, the expertise and the funding of nearly $1 billion worth of equipment by the Canadian and European partners - to say nothing of their enthusiasm and vision - are vital elements in the space shuttle's success.

American taxpayers and the United States government should cherish this partnership and respect its mutual obligations. Sadly, this has not been done with joint projects in unmanned space exploration. In recent years, the US has reneged on its obligations, cancelling its commitments after Europeans, in one case, spent the equivalent of $100 million on their share of the project. Such irresponsibility must not be allowed to mar the space shuttle partnership.

Columbia's second mission, and the many missions yet to come, open a new field for practical achievement as well as exploration in space. We can be grateful that the United States has staunch and able partners in this great enterprise.

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