In the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy, attention has rightfully focused on the human loss. Seven courageous astronauts died, leaving behind seven spouses, thirteen children, hundreds of friends and several nations that mourn them. But scientists and NASA are also contemplating the loss of other living things that burned up on reentry — various life science experiment samples, from spiders and ants to cancer cell cultures and moss — a treasure trove of results from more than a dozen life science experiments.

Although grief over the human loss is still painfully fresh, debate over the value of such research in space has already begun. STS-107 was the first shuttle mission in a long while devoted exclusively to research, and was to be the last before such work was shifted to the International Space Station. Countless editorials and news stories have appeared in recent days questioning whether space-based research is...

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