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Launch Complex at Vandenberg

July 21, 1986

The Times editorial suggestion (July 9), "White Elephant," that the space shuttle launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base be abandoned ignores several important points:

--The facility has already been built. With the exception of one item involving exhaust vents, all questions regarding safety at the new Western spaceport have been satisfactorily answered. Air Force engineers say they will propose a solution to the vent problem shortly. It would be folly to walk away from a $3-billion investment on the basis of one, soon-to-be resolved, question.

--The West Coast launch site is needed. As The Times correctly noted, Vandenberg is the only place from which rockets--manned or unmanned--can be launched into polar orbit. Rockets launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida fly over only a portion of the globe. Full global coverage, necessary for national security, as well as dozens of other tasks, can only be achieved from Vandenberg. If we are committed to a manned space program--and I believe we are, for a number of scientific, medical and national defense reasons--it would be fool-hardy to deny ourselves manned access to this vital region of near-earth space.

--Vandenberg serves an important backup function. If there was one thing made clear in the aftermath of the Challenger tragedy, it was again the folly of relying upon any single system or facility for access to space. If something were to happen to the Kennedy spaceport--an explosion on the pad, for example--we would be left with no launch facilities for our shuttle fleet.

Manned space flight is admittedly a dangerous undertaking. The report made by Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.) after his visit to Vandenberg makes this clear. But the issues he raises have all been raised before, evaluated, and deemed worth the risk. If the weather report is bad, for example, the launch project is postponed, just as it is at Kennedy (and the weather at Vandenberg is certainly no worse than the weather at Kennedy).

The report of the National Commission on Space makes it clear that we will have manned presence in space in the years to come. The planned U.S. space station is the first step toward that goal. We cannot have a manned space station (the Soviets already have one) without some way of getting people up there. The shuttle fleet provides that link.

We are not about to abandon the shuttle fleet, and we should not abandon Vandenberg. They are both money in the bank, and we are going to need them.


Member of Congress

19th District


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