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Space Shuttle and the Future

February 09, 1986

Heppenheimer's article (Jan. 31,) "The Shuttle Is a Model T," is almost shocking in its inept statements concerning the present and future of America's space program. The author has accumulated the latest buzzwords but fails to use them in a rational context. Replies to some of his statements are listed below:

1. Statement: "A host of new technologies are evolving . . . Yet NASA (resolutely pursues) the old-fashioned technology of rockets."

Reply: If Heppenheimer will read the numerous available aerospace publications and periodicals, he cannot escape the fact that NASA is always on the leading edge of the state of the art in all pertinent technology and has an unusually high consistency of safety in the field of rocketry. NASA has conducted research on ramjets for "jet-propelled aircraft that can fly to orbit" and on "nuclear propulsion." However, these concepts are decades down the road.

2. Statement: "NASA is staffed mostly by old-timers who have been there for decades. It attracts few young people with fresh ideas."

Reply: Quite contrary to the above statement, the average age of NASA scientist-engineers is under that of industry and other government agencies in general. NASA attracts the cream of the crop of "young people with fresh ideas." When I was with NASA I personally hired many scientists and engineers who were predominately upper level graduates. They were almost without exception bright, creative and dedicated young men and women who in a short period of time infused their enthusiasm and concepts into the space program--and with some maturity became excellent staff members.

3. The shuttle is definitely not a Model T and, like Apollo, will emerge from tragedy a stronger "Challenger" to the future.

RICHARD E. DAY

Palmdale

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