Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nixon and the Space Shuttle

In early January 1972, at the beginning of the last year of the Apollo program, President Nixon gave his go-ahead for a new U.S. manned space craft: the Space Shuttle. Whether you consider it a white elephant or useful tool for getting into orbit, the Space Shuttle was Nixon's baby. The following is from the statement he released on that occasion:

I have decided today that the United States should proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970s into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980s and '90s.

This system will center on a space vehicle that can shuttle repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back. It will revolutionize transportation into near space, by routinizing it. It will take the astronomical costs out of astronautics. In short, it will go a long way toward delivering the rich benefits of practical space utilization and the valuable spinoffs from space efforts into the daily lives of Americans and all people...

The new system will differ radically from all existing booster systems, in that most of this new system will be recovered and used again and again -- up to 100 times. The resulting economies may bring operating costs down as low as one-tenth of those present launch vehicles... Preparation is now sufficient for us to commence the actual work of construction with full confidence of success. In order to minimize technical and economic risks, the space agency will continue to take a cautious evolutionary approach in the development of this new system. Even so, by moving ahead at this time, we can have the Shuttle in manned flight by 1978, and operational a short time later...

'We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it', said Oliver Wendell Holmes, 'but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor'. So with man's epic voyage into space -- a voyage the United States of America has led and still shall lead.

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