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Angermann, Barbara; Hoffland, Shelly (ed.) / Wisconsin engineer
Volume 93, No. 2 (December 1988)

Korjenek, Don
Questions remain despite shuttle's success,   pp. 16-17


Page 16


QUESTIONS REMAIN
DESPITE SHUTTLE'S SUCCESS
by Don Korlenek
On September 29th the U.S.
finally got its space program back off the
ground following the 32 month post-
Challenger disaster layoff. On the same
day, the U.S. signed an agreement with
11 other countries to build the next major
space project, a permanently manned
space station to orbit the earth by the 21st
century. Few would argue that there was
a great deal more riding on the
Discovery's flight than a group of
nervous astronauts.
Few would argue that there was a
great deal more riding on the
Discovery's flight than a group of
nervous astronauts
Since the Discovery flight was a
success, many people feel that NASA and
our space program are back on track.
However, just as one accident should not
cripple an entire program, nor should
one success earn NASA the proverbial
pat on the back. NASA still suffers from
several major problems, most of which
are not directly connected to the Chal-
lenger accident. Without focused long
term goals, secure funding, and added
versatility NASA may see its role as a
powerful government agency reduced.
Goals
The immediate future for NASA
is fairly simple. The large number of
proposed shuttle launchings that were
put on hold following the Challenger
accident are to be carried out. This
however does not constitute long term
planning. There is a necessity for the
space program to provide such objec-
tives, but NASA has yet to do so. In fact,
this has been the case since the start of
the space race in the late 1950's. NASA
has a history of spurting ahead to reach
specific goals, then relaxing. Originally,
the goal was simply to beat the Soviet
Union to space. Today, the shuttle
program seems more like a means
without an end.
Aside from the shuttle, NASA's
next major project is the planned orbiting
space station. Presumably, it would
serve as a low-gravity laboratory and a
stepping-stone to further explore the
solar system. While this project would
certainly give NASA something to do, its
goals beyond actually building the
station are unclear. Most of the proposed
missions for such a space station can be
done by the existing shuttle fleet,
satellites, and space platforms. Other
possible long range goals of NASA
include: a more ambitious exploration of
the solar system with robotic craft, an
expanded effort to monitor the earth's
threatened environment from space, a
permanent base on the moon, and human
exploration of Mars. These general
proposals do not solve NASA's problem
of a lack of coherent, specific goals.
Without specific goals, NASA will also
have problems obtaining funding for
future projects.
Finance
Obtaining the necessary money
for such projects as the space station will
be difficult at best for NASA. Although
President-Elect Bush has expressed
support, Congress has been rather
lukewarm about the idea. NASA hopes
to use the shuttle to build the proposed
space station, but since the Challenger
exploded the costs of each shuttle
mission have dramatically increased.
These costs were not just from the loss of
such an expensive craft and the subse-
quent redesign, but from a reorganiza-
tion of NASA itself. Now more safety
precautions and testing go into each
launch. Furthermore, NASA competes
with other U.S. government agencies for
money. Figure 1 shows how the space
budget of the Defense Department has
increased while NASA's has decreased
since the Apollo moon missions.
If NASA's goals are unclear then
it's future funding is in serious doubt.
Many people feel that it is not appropri-
ate to fund NASA simply for the sake of
sustaining the organization. With $200
billion budget deficits, the U.S. can not
afford to spend money on unwise
programs.
Many people feel that it is not appro-
priate to fund NASA simply for the
sake of sustaining the organization
Versatility
Most of NASA's current prob-
lems stem from a lack of versatility. That
is, the reliance on the shuttle program as
its single most important project since its
conception. There is great debate today
over the need for manned space flight.
Much of the scientific community
contends that its experiments can be
conducted by unmanned rockets, which
Wisconsin Engineer, December 1988


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