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Nasa’s Space Planes Cause Trouble In Congress

Last Updated on June 2, 2020 by

The following is from pages 13-14 of the March 1986 issue of “NASA
Activities,” a publication for NASA employees:

FROM THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD

Representative George E. Brown, Jr. provided the following remarks
concerning the NASA FY 1987 budget proposal regarding TAV research.

In January, the Space Shuttle Challenger embarked on a mission of science
and commerce. That mission abruptly ended in tragedy when the vehicle
exploded 74 seconds into the flight. America lost seven pioneers that
morning. For those millions who watched the tragedy live, or watched it
later on tape, the names of the Challenger crew will be etched in our
memories: Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik,
Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe.

A reassessment of the Space Transportation Systems priorities will
undoubtedly take place. My colleagues and I on the Science and Technology
Committee will play a large role in that reassessment. Issues will be
addressed as to the Shuttle launch priorities once it resumes operations.
The Defense Department, for example, had been straining the capacity of
the Shuttle even before Tuesday’s Shuttle accident, reserving as much as
one third of the Shuttle launch capacity. The Strategic Defense
Initiative’s R&D would put additional demands on the Shuttle capacity
through the 1990’s. Clearly, with a complement of four Space Shuttles
NASA was just able to satisfy the needs of all U.S. customers. The loss
of the Challenger has resulted in a substantial loss of total launch
capacity which will not easily be regained.

To replace the lost orbiter at this point would cost between $1.7 and $2.2
billion, and would take from 3 to 5 years to complete. I personally
support funding another orbiter as I have in the past, but other interim
steps should be taken as well. For example, it may be cheaper and easier
to reinvest in expendable launch vehicles to stem the U.S.
launch-capability gap caused by the loss of the Challenger. Currently,
the Shuttle is only supplemented by four expandable launch vehicles each
year. In 4 years or so, the additional shuttle would again be available
to handle the increased demand.

This is also an appropriate time to move forward with an advanced next
generation Shuttle vehicle. I commend the administration for the
farsightedness it has shown by proposing funding for transatmospheric
vehicle (TAV) research effort in its fiscal year 1987 budget. NASA and
the Department of Defnese (DOD) would jointly be charged with researching
the vehicle over a 2- to 3-year period. The TAV would achieve speeds of
25 times the speed of sound–Mach 25, the velocity needed to achieve Earth
orbit.

The TAV, or National Aerospace Plane (NASP) as the Air Force has
officially named it, would potentially drive down the cost of delivery
payloads into space by a factor of 100. The flexibility of the hybrid
vehicle would allow it to launch on demand and take off and land a major
airports. The TAV has also been called the new Orient Express because it
will have the ability to travel from the United States to anywhere on the
Asian Pacific rim in a matter of a few hours. The possibilities for
civilian, as well as defense uses of the aerospace plane are evident.

Within DOD, participants include the Air Force, Navy, the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Strategic Defense Initiative
Organization. Funding for the initiative would be split approximately 80
percent and 20 percent between DOD and NASA, respectively. I am concerned
that this funding structure is weighted too heavily on the military, but I
will hold my reservations in check as long as first, the program remains a
basic research iniitative, and second, no military mission is imposed on
TAV during the research and development stages.

The proposed TAV requires a $300 to $400 million 2- to 3-year-ground-test
program which would concentrate on advancing and demonstrating key engine,
materials, and structure technology. NASA requested $42.8 million for the
program in fiscal year 1987. Although the DOD contribution is classified,
the Washington Post reported that a total of $200 million is requested for
fiscal year 1987 activities. If the ground test phase progresses
satisfactorily, a test vehicle could be built by the early 1990’s for
under $2 billion. If Congress will take up the challenge of investing in
a TAV program, an operational TAV system could be possible by the year
2000. I fully support moving this program ahead.

Long after the burning issues of this Congress are forgotten, the latter
half of the 20th century will be remembered as the era when the people
took the first steps off this planet. Long after Gramm-Rudman-Hollings is
forgotten, parents will tell their children about the first lunar landing,
unmanned expeditions to the planets, and the start of routine travel to
space. It is difficult to compare the benefits of the space program to
any other federally funded program. How can Congress analyze the
“aspirations,” measure the “wonderment,” or quantify the “hopes” that are
the real benefits of America’s space program?

Aside from the satellite industry, what we do in space today may not show
significant economic gains in the near-term. What we are investing in is
a dream–a hope–which may not show material benefit for many years–far
beyond the long-term projections of the most liberal economists. I am
convinced that people will establish bases on the Moon and Mars, and
eventually settle the entire solar system. From those far away colonies,
men and somen will undoubtedly begin to contemplate manned interstellar
exploration. We will do these things because the urge to explore new
territories and travel in space is basic to human nature. We cannot deny
this ancient desire.

Most major discoveries in the past have been made by individuals who took
up the scientific or exploratory challenge on their own. But, today’s
pioneers can’t tinker in their garages and build a vehicle to take them to
the stars. Therefore, we, as a nation, must become the curious star
voyager and build those ships. As a collective inquisitor, the nation
shares in the rewards of the discoveries made aboard ships like the
Challenger.

The President has asked for sufficient NASA fiscal year 1987 budget, and I
would ask that you support a healthy program when it comes to the floor of
the House for consideration.

This past year has been plagued with numerous man-inflicted disasters, but
none has touched the human spirit more than the explosion of the Space
Shuttle Challenger. Carrying seven heros, including America’s first
teacher in space, the loss will not soon be forgotten. However, the
potential gains of exploring and developing space have not diminished with
this accident. The hopes and aspirations of the crew of the Challenger
are still very much a part of the consciousness of America. We must draw
from this tragic experience renewed determination to explore space, and to
make it a place in which all humans can one day safely travel