Viewing '60s 'Right Stuff' with a '90s lens

In response to the opinion piece "Right Stuff, Wrong Time: Mercury 13 Women Wait" (Nov. 6) about the first women in NASA's astronaut program: This is an unfortunate case of a '90s lens applied (and an activist's one at that) to the early '60s. The article put a misleading spin on an old story and missed the real thinking that was behind the decisions that were made.

NASA should be praised for considering women as astronauts in the early 1960s. This kind of thinking was progressive then, and demonstrated an objective consideration of mission requirements, unfettered by political considerations of the time. The logic was simple: It was extremely expensive to put something in space, and our rockets had nowhere near the capability that they do today. Smaller, lighter people would naturally be a better choice for the first astronauts. Dogs and monkeys flew first.

Politics and social considerations of the time eventually took precedence. The space program could not survive if a woman lost her life, even if she volunteered for what was clearly a very dangerous job. It was acceptable to risk the life of a man for his country. This was done all the time. And to a large extent this is still true today. The author and I might agree that this is sexism. We might not agree on who the real victim is, however.

We've all had opportunities unfairly taken from us. The author is looking too hard to find evidence to support her cause and misses the big picture. Whether NASA one day considers putting Jerrie Cobb in space is another political issue. I think the agency would be better off if it focused on its technical mission and less on PR.

Richard Kroeger

Bowie, Md.

More intelligence is not the solution

Opinion columnist Pat Holt's "A Decent Spy Network Still the Best Defense" (Nov. 5) misses the most obvious indicators underlying international hostility: injustice and insecurity. An expensive "intelligence network" is not needed to identify the nations most hostile to US foreign policy. And it doesn't take tons of brain power to figure out that a hostile nation is unlikely to risk a missile attack on the US, and the certainty of a devastating retaliatory strike, when other forms of mass destruction are readily available, far cheaper, and far easier to deliver without traceable launch trails.

Any variety of microscopic infectious agents could be slipped across our border with absolutely no chance of detection by the smartest human agents until they hear about it on the evening news. A preemptive strike? Not possible unless you want to second guess about a dozen nations and take out nearly 2 billion people. Even then you won't get all their relatives.

Greater intelligence is always a good idea but perhaps we should consider more kindness, diplomacy, and making a greater investment in global systems of justice like the United Nations.

Chuck Woolery

Rockville, Md.

Deforestation and Mitch's Impact

Thank you for printing the article "Poverty and Deforestation Make Storm Effects Worse" (Nov. 6) on how deforestation contributed to the impact of hurricane Mitch. The consequences of our misuse of resources are often not well reported and, indeed, yours is one of the first articles I've seen relating deforestation to the flooding and mudslides.

Without information about the results of our choices, we can't make better choices in the future. Please continue the depth of your coverage. Well done!

Devon Bonar

Columbus, Ohio

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