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I A l b e r t D. Wheelon’s thoughtful analysis, originally presented July 15, 1986, establishes many crucial points. First, NASA’s total concentration on a ”Shuttle-only” program led to the disastrous current state of the United States’ space program. Wheelon is right in stating that the United States must now use its disarray to good purpose by restructuring the national space program to use the Shuttle and its astronauts solely for those activities that genuinely require the presence of humans in space. All other payloads and launch vehicle systems must be free to utilize automated means, which are generally cheaper and more flexible.Objective application of this criterion will drastically reduce the number of Shuttle launches required. Thus, Wheelon’s analysis leads to the conclusion that there is no need to procure another Shuttle Orbiter to replace Challenger or to complete and operate the second Shuttle launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Second, Wheelon eloquently points out the fallacy of NASA’s new focus on a Space Station as the central element for future civilian space efforts. NASA is repeating the underlying error of the past-namely, constructing U.S. civil space infrastructure upon the erroneous policy that the human must be part of nearly every significant civil space function (unlike the Soviets who maintain vigorous and separate manned and unmanned programs). Third, Wheelon correctly emphasizes that the overriding, immediate need of the United States’ space program is for practical and cost-effective expendable launch options for military payloads , for communications satellites, and for space science and applications payloads. Fourth, the ”Shuttle-only” program has indeed, as he asserts, dissipated the United States’ once unchallenged leadership in planetary exploration , reducing it now to, at best, a fading coequal. Broad domestic political and popular support for planetary exploration has not been effectively translated over the last decade into new exploratory space missions because of NASA’s competing priority for use of the manned Shuttle as an (inappropriate) launch vehicle for unmanned deep space missions. This article is contribution no. 4431 of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. Bruce Murray is Professor of Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology. [nfernational Security, Spnng 1987(Vol. 11, No. 4) 01987by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 178 “Born Anew” I 179 Unfortunately, Presidential decisions about NASA, made subsequent to Wheelon’s July 15 paper, indicate that the lessons highlighted by the Challenger explosion have only been partly assimilated by the White House. Military space payloads have indeed been released from the artificial launch restraints imposed since 1972 by the ”Shuttle-only” national policy. The Department of Defense is once again able to carry out military space activities in a cost-effective manner. The White House also directed NASA to get out of the commercial launch business (a move that Wheelon feels will cripple U.S. commercial competition). These really have only been White House budget decisions, not major policy decisions. The military has been freed to spend its space budget as it wishes, and NASA’s subsidy of commercial launches has been proscribed. Sadly, no real goals or directions have been set for NASA itself. Space science and applications efforts, unfortunately, remain chained to the fallacies of the 1970s. NASA continues to avoid objective consideration of expendable launch vehicles for major space science and planetary exploration missions. ”Forced busing in space” remains the policy for those activities NASA still controls financially, such as space science. President Reagan‘s decision to build a fourth Orbiter over a peculiarly long time scale means that it cannot help to alleviate the present serious shortage of launch vehicles for military and commercial purposes. By the time the fourth Orbiter becomes available, expendable launch vehicle systems will be widely available and used for all high-priority military and commercial needs. For what critical national purpose, then, is the extra Orbiter so desperately needed? In addition, the White House has opted to retain the Vandenberg launch capability, although in a nonoperational status. The reactivation of Vandenberg is tied to the completion of the fourth Orbiter, seemingly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 178-182
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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