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Launch Complex at Vandenberg

July 21, 1986

The Times editorial erroneously paints a defeatist picture of our nation's space-launcher situation.

The shuttle is and will remain a vital component of our national launch capability, and Vandenberg Air Force Base will be used to launch the shuttle into polar orbits on missions in support of national security and the space station program.

Vandenberg is essential for launching payloads into polar or near-polar orbits that due to weight, geometry or other constraints must be placed in the shuttle. Also, polar-orbiting systems, such as the planned space station platform, are only serviceable by the shuttle. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that the new complementary expendable launch vehicle will be ready by 1989.

As you point out, the American public has made a major investment in the West Coast launch facility, which is the most modern launch complex in the world. Those problems that have been identified at the facility have either been corrected or will be in time for the initiation of shuttle polar-orbit flights. To abandon this investment would be ludicrous.

The same can be said for The Times' apparent writing off of the shuttle system. In the course of 24 extremely successful missions, the space shuttle has established its worth as the only reusable and most advanced space transportation system in operation today. Indeed, the report of the Rogers Commission on the Challenger accident states, "In those 24 flights, the shuttle demonstrated its ability to deliver a wide variety of payloads; its ability to serve as an orbital laboratory; its utility as a platform for erection of large structures; and its use for retrieval and repair of orbiting satellites."

This nation has important plans in space. Along with launching satellites for communications, scientific investigation, weather forecasting, Earth resources-monitoring and defense surveillance, we have begun promising work on the space shuttle to produce valuable medicines and semiconductor crystals in the microgravity environment.

These efforts will expand with the construction of a permanently manned space station in Earth orbit by the United States with the cooperation of our allies from Canada, Japan and Europe. These and other anticipated requirements cannot be adequately supported by a fleet of three shuttle orbiters even with the addition of new expendable launch vehicles.


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