The Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) appeared dead last week. But appearances can be deceiving.
True, the United States House of Representatives voted by an overwhelming 280-to-150 margin to kill the $10 billion project. But the House does not have the final word on the subject, and last year the Senate saved the project after a similarly lopsided House vote to kill it.
The support of Democratic leaders in the House also proved crucial to the Super Collider's salvation last year. The House leadership appointed negotiators to the conference committee who backed the project. Thus it was no great surprise that the SSC found its way back into an appropriations bill.
This year, opponents of the SSC hope that the big defeat in the House will deter senators and House leaders from backing the program. Sen. Dale Bumpers (D) of Arkansas said in a statement that the House vote "greatly enhances our chances of killing the project in the Senate."
No matter what happens in the Senate, the House vote sent a strong signal about Congress's budget-cutting mood. Senior members of both parties supported the Super Collider. But freshman lawmakers overwhelmingly opposed the SSC, saying that they had been elected to cut government spending.
That mood of austerity was also reflected in the House vote on the space station earlier last week. Opponents of the project, who have gotten nowhere in previous years, came within one vote of aborting the $25 billion project on June 23.
They will get another chance when the House considers an appropriations bill for the space station this week.
Why did the space station fare better than the Super Collider? One reason was jobs: the space station employs 17,000, the super collider only 7,000.
The space station also benefited from the glamour still associated with the space program. Both themes - jobs and space exploration - were stressed by an intense lobbying campaign waged by supporters of the space station. The Boeing Company, a prime contractor on the project, even ran television commercials evoking the excitement of the 1960s race to the moon.