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Building a scaled down version of a proposed space station would be a waste of time and money, says a prestigious research panel.

Simply put, the seven-page National Research Council study concludes that the smaller, simpler new design for NASA's space station "does not meet the basic research requirements" for which it is to be built.The report goes on to add, "Neither the quantity nor the quality of research that can be conducted on the proposed station merits the projected investment."

The report caught many supporters, including the National Science Council headed by Vice President Dan Quayle, by surprise. One observer calls the report a "body blow" that "clearly can kill the space station."

Common sense says the project should be dead. After all, who needs a multibillion-dollar project that won't do the job?

The council backs up its criticism of the scaled-down space station with specific allegations. Among them:

- The plan to share electrical power among many users suggests that there will be insufficient power to conduct the volume of long-term biological experiments required.

- The proposed crew size (four) is insufficient to conduct the requisite experiments in a reasonable time.

- It will have too little data-handling capability, which, along with the power supply, has been reduced in the latest redesign.

- The facility will not provide the stable near-weightless environment required for materials research.

A space station certainly can be justified - if the money can be found in an increasingly austere budget - but not one that is unable to function properly. Nothing is saved by spending less money and ending up with a facility that cannot do the job.