Space Station Woes
August 5, 1999
When President Reagan proposed a space station in 1984, he used the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's assumptions that it would cost $8 billion, make possible major discoveries in eight scientific fields, and be completed by 1992.
The actuality has fallen far short of those goals, say critics.
- Nearly $30 billion has been spent so far, but only two of the almost 40 main parts have been installed.
- Although the low-orbit station has been vastly scaled down, projected costs have ballooned to over $100 billion.
- Its science mission has been scaled back to only one, and the completion date has been pushed back to 2005.
Critics say that the problems building the space station come on the heels of the failure of the 30-year space shuttle program to accomplish its goals.
- In 1982, NASA predicted that by 1992 the space shuttle would have flown over "400 times carrying payloads for military, scientific, and private industry customers."
- The 1986 Challenger disaster ended NASA's role as a launch provider to all but itself and its international partners on the space station.
- The shuttle system that was supposed to fly 51 times a year when it was sold to the nation in 1972 will fly only four times this year -- at a cost of $4 billion.
And because the shuttle is cost prohibitive for commercial satellite launches, American businesses use European companies for launch services.
Critics say claims have also been inflated for the next-generation shuttle, Lockheed Martin's X-33. The X-33 is supposed to be produced for industry customers after Lockheed builds a taxpayer- funded demonstrator. But Lockheed is now asking for government loan guarantees -- and Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) has introduced the Space Launch Cost Reduction Act to provide them.
Just as with the airplane, microcomputer and satellite communications, critics suggest private enterprise should be given the opportunity to take over civilian space operations, bear the risks and reap the rewards.
Source: Robert G. Oler, Richard Kolker and Mark Whittington, "Thirty Years of Ineptitude," Weekly Standard, July 26, 1999.
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