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'Another Shuttle? Not Now'

August 20, 1986

Your editorial is a further example of the misinformation and indecision afflicting our nation's space program. The loss of the Challenger was only the most dramatic of many recent setbacks, due in large part to attempts to be a world leader in space development using penny-pinching micro-management.

Repeated projections of the demand for space traffic since the beginning of shuttle flights in 1981 have shown that a four-orbiter fleet is inadequate. The decision by President Carter to cut the fleet from five to four was made against the analyses of NASA, industry and independent consultants.

Repeated studies showed the need for five orbiters and a robust expendable launch vehicle industry. Such projections exceeded the NASA goal of 24 flights a year, and even that lower goal had to assume six flights per year per orbiter.

With the recommendations of the Rogers Commission, the remaining three orbiters may eventually get back up to four to five flights per year. This means the shuttle fleet will fly, at best, only 15 times a year. Current plans for expendable launchers can not make up for this capacity loss without extensive cancellation of civilian programs.

Your editorial assumed that getting commercial satellites off the shuttle, along with expanded military purchases of expendable launchers, will free up enough capacity to carry on our space efforts. This is false. Many flights in the 1990s were not just satellites, but industrial, scientific, and military experiments requiring manned operation.

The grounding of the shuttle fleet means we have at least a two-year backlog of payloads to be flown on a reduced fleet or cancelled. The space station program can not be supported on a three-orbiter fleet and leave room for scientific, military and commercial customers on shuttle.


Santa Monica

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