Category After Apollo?

National Security Requirements. Drive Shuttle Design

When NASA in its September 30, 1970, budget proposal to the Office of Management and Budget OMB) characterized the space shuttle as “cost- effective,” it was responding to pressure from the budget office to demon­strate that the combination of the costs of developing and operating the reusable shuttle would, over the period of shuttle use, produce a cost savings over the use of existing or new expendable launch vehicles to launch the same missions. This requirement was unprecedented; in the 12 years since NASA had begun operations, it had never been required to show that one of its programs could be justified in economic terms. The NASA leadership, once it had decided to defer the space station and to justify the shuttle as a general – purpose launch system, concluded that it had no alternative but to accede to the cost-effectiveness requirement. NASA quickly recognized that meeting this requirement would require the shuttle being used to launch essentially all U. S. payloads. In particular, military and intelligence satellites launched by the national security community comprised almost half of the U. S. demand for space launches, and there was no way that the shuttle could be cost effec­tive unless that community abandoned its own launch vehicles and commit­ted to use the shuttle once its feasibility had been demonstrated.

This put the national security community in a strong bargaining position. Knowing that NASA needed its commitment to use the shuttle, the com­munity could both set out a demanding set of performance requirements for the shuttle to meet and refuse to share in the cost of shuttle development, claiming it already had perfectly adequate launch capability. This was the path that was followed from early 1969 to the final approval of the shuttle. While NASA if it had not had to respond to national security requirements might well have chosen another shuttle design, its leaders decided that they had no choice but to meet those requirements. Throughout the shuttle study process, and particularly in the critical year of 1971, it was the ability of the shuttle to launch all or almost all national security as well as NASA payloads that defined the shuttle design NASA would advocate.

National security requirements defined three shuttle performance char­acteristics:

1. Payload bay dimensions: The shuttle would carry its cargo in a “payload bay.” The width and length of the payload bay would determine the size of the cargo that could be carried.

2. Payload weight: The lifting power of the shuttle was usually expressed in how many pounds of payload it could launch to various orbits. The weight of payloads that the shuttle could take to various orbits was in turn linked to how many future missions could be launched by the shuttle. The heavi­est payloads anticipated for the shuttle were national security missions.

3. Cross range: This was the ability of the shuttle to maneuver sideways from a “straight ahead” path as it returned to Earth. There were a variety of speculative national security missions for the shuttle that required cross range of over 1,100 nautical miles (nm).

This chapter gives only minimal attention to the detailed technical issues involved in defining a space shuttle design that would meet these national security requirements; those issues have been treated in several other studies.1

Low Has Reservations

George Low, at that time still NASA acting administrator, reluctantly approved Myers’s January decision to orient the Phase B studies to a full capability fully reusable shuttle, although he “had hoped that Myers would be able to come up with a phased program, where we would first develop the orbiter to be launched on a [expendable] Saturn IC stage”; a reusable booster stage would be developed several years later. Such an approach would mean giving up, at least for the first few years of shuttle operation, the goal of full reusability and the accompanying very low operating costs that had been at the core of the shuttle’s attractiveness for potential users.

Low’s thoughts about phasing the shuttle development program dated back several months. As he had argued with OMB in the fall of 1970 for full funding for the shuttle in the FY1972 budget, Low recognized that if future NASA budgets remained at the same low level as what was being proposed for FY1972, there was no way to fund the development of a two-stage, fully reusable space shuttle without taking up an unacceptable share of the overall NASA budget. On the day after Thanksgiving 1970, Low had called to his home Willis Shapley, Dale Myers, and Charles Donlan. Low noted that “we held the meeting because of our collective concern that the shuttle program, as now constituted (two-stage fully reusable vehicle), would cost more than we could afford on an annual basis in the middle of the 70’s.” He added

A phased program, wherein we would first procure only the orbiter and launch it on a modified [Saturn] S-1C stage and only subsequently build a booster, would make more sense from the point of view of annual funding. It might also make more sense technically because we would face only one major prob­lem at a time. At the same time, we could also adopt a Block I/Block II approach, wherein many of the “nice to have” features would be reserved for Block II and would not be incorporated into Block I. In other words, the Block I vehicle would have the potential for cross-range, but only Block II would fly with cross-range.28

These ideas did not get translated into NASA policy for some months; in the interim, studies of the shuttle went forward based on Dale Myers’s January 1971 requirements.

Alternative Space Transportation Approaches

As he thought through the path that NASA should follow, Low in August had outlined for his senior colleagues his ideas on “the desired Space Transportation System for the 1980’s.” He rejected both developing a full­sized, two-stage reusable shuttle and pursuing an approach using a reusable “ballistic” spacecraft, a capsule without wings, launched on an expendable booster and parachuted back to Earth. This approach was based on modify­ing the two-person Gemini spacecraft used in the mid-1960s to carry six or more people, and was becoming known as “Big-G.” Low focused on a “mini-shuttle approach wherein a smaller shuttle vehicle is first developed and launched on an expendable booster. The recoverable booster and the desired full-scale shuttle are phased in at a later date.” The mini-shuttle would have a 15 x 40 foot payload bay (so that it could carry research and application modules and eventually space station modules), upgraded Saturn J-2 engines, and a disposable hydrogen/oxygen propellant tank. It could carry 40,000 pounds (rather than 65,000 pounds) to a due-East orbit. The initial version of this mini-shuttle would make use of existing technology in its on-board electronic systems. It would be propelled to staging velocity by an expendable booster, then fire its engines to accelerate to orbital velocity. In successive stages of development, an advanced shuttle rocket engine could replace the J-2 engines and a recoverable booster, not necessarily piloted, could be used.

Low also considered a “glider approach.” This vehicle, Low suggested, would be winged but smaller, with a 12 x 40 foot payload bay, carrying 30,000 pounds to orbit. It would have small engines for maneuvering in orbit and to initiate return to Earth, but no large rocket engines. It would be propelled to orbit by an expendable booster. Low did not have “enough information in hand to lead to a firm recommendation between the glider approach and the mini-shuttle approach.” He suggested that NASA “take a further look at both the glider and the mini-shuttle before we decide to limit our work to one or the other.” Low noted that Dale Myers preferred the mini-shuttle approach, suggesting that a glider would only send astronauts “whirling about the Earth” to no evident purpose, while he, Fletcher, and von Braun favored the glider.21

Canceling Apollo 16 and 17

By the end of October, NASA had learned of the possibility that Apollo 16 and 17 might be canceled, though it is not clear that the agency knew that the can­celation directive came directly from President Nixon. Fletcher wrote a long let­ter to Cap Weinberger on November 3, putting forth the case for not canceling the missions. He told Weinberger that “if broader considerations, nevertheless, lead to a decision to cancel Apollo 16 and 17, the consequences would be much more serious than the loss of a major scientific opportunity. Unless compen­satory actions are taken at the same time to offset and minimize the impact, this decision could be a blow from which the space program might not easily recover.” Fletcher proposed as a rationale for canceling the missions “that, in these times of pressing domestic needs, the manned space program should be earth-oriented instead of exploration and science-oriented.” Not surprisingly, he suggested as an offsetting action “an early go-ahead for the space shuttle.” Science adviser David chimed in at the end of November, urging the president to retain the mission in the NASA program, telling Nixon that “the cost of completing these missions is $118 million in FY 73, less than one-half of one per cent of the total cost of the Apollo investment. . . These missions will pro­vide over fifty per cent of the total productive time on the lunar surface” and that “further cancellation at this time would be seized upon not only by skeptics in the science and engineering communities but also by many staunch supporters of the Administration as unwarranted and unwise.” Apparently David had told his associates that he would resign if the two missions were canceled.33

The Showdown Looms

During the second half of December the White House prepared for a final decision on the space shuttle configuration. On December 16 the OMB space unit prepared a memorandum for the president discussing the “capa­bilities, size, and cost of the space shuttle” as “the one key Presidential issue remaining in the NASA FY 1973 Budget.” The memorandum made the case for the OMB shuttle approach, and noted that “the difference between the employment impact of the two versions of the Shuttle on 11/72 [an indirect way of saying ‘on the Presidential election’] is negligible. Announcement of a favorable decision for either version would be gratefully received by the aerospace industry.” The memo recognized that the larger shuttle could “transport certain intelligence satellites and a relatively few large astronomy satellites,” but that “achieving the extra capability of the larger version is not of near-term importance.” It suggested that “it is important to maintain the Titan III for national security. Dropping the dependable Titan III would place too much reliance upon a new and unproven system for vital national security missions.” Approving “the lower cost Shuttle would preserve the option to build bigger versions in the 1980’s if really required. There is a high probability that this will not be the case.” The memo recommended that “policy guidance be given to NASA that (a) the total investment cost of the Shuttle (including facilities and vehicles) is not to exceed $5 billion,

(b) the recurring cost per Shuttle launch is not to exceed $6 million, and

(c) the peak NASA budget during the rest of the 1970’s is not to exceed $3.2 billion (in 1971 dollars).” These cost constraints had been modified slightly upward compared to the December 11 OMB shuttle paper. With this guidance, “NASA and its industrial contractors [should] proceed at once to begin to define the best system that can be developed within the overall fiscal constraints.”27

Don Rice forwarded the draft presidential memo to Cap Weinberger together with a cover note that revealed some of the tactics that OMB was employing in its dealings with NASA. Rice noted that “the fact that the Shuttle decision is still open is our most significant bargaining point with NASA” with respect to the agency’s future. He suggested, “as part of the decision on the Space Shuttle, an understanding be reached with Dr. Fletcher about the need for the closure of a manned space flight center after Apollo and Skylab are completed.” In order to receive approval for the shuttle, NASA would have to agree in several years to reduce its institutional base, a particular OMB objective. But no action on this closure “would be initiated or announced” until after the November presidential election. Rice closed his note to Weinberger by suggesting that “it would seem unwise to approve. . . NASA’s request for a large Space Shuttle.”28

This draft memorandum was not forwarded to Richard Nixon; the space shuttle issue was instead addressed by his senior advisers. NASA was sched­uled to meet with OMB on December 29 to make its final recommendation with respect to the shuttle. In preparation, on December 28 there was a meeting in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building at which Don Rice discussed the various shuttle configurations with senior White House staff such as Ehrlichman, Shultz, Weinberger, Flanigan, and international economics counselor Peter Peterson. Bill Anders held mod­els of the different configurations as Rice spoke. Later on the same day, Ehrlichman met separately with Ed David and Peter Flanigan to discuss the shuttle decision. During one of these meetings, Ehrlichman called Anders, asking which shuttle configuration would produce the most aerospace jobs in southern California. Anders replied “you don’t need to be a rocket sci­entist to know that the bigger the shuttle, the more the jobs.” Ehrlichman replied “OK, that will be the one” which would be approved. By the end of December, when the final decision on the shuttle design was to be made, there was thus a good understanding within the senior levels of the White House of the issues at stake.29 It was clearly time for a decision.

A “Go” for Shuttle Development

On March 14, Don Rice gave NASA oral approval for developing the NASA-recommended shuttle configuration, an orbiter with a 15 x 60 foot payload bay and using solid rocket motors to assist in its launch. The next day, NASA issued a press release saying: "NASA announced today that the Space Shuttle booster stage will be powered by solid rocket motors in a parallel burn configuration. The booster stage will be recoverable. Requests for proposals for design and development of the Space Shuttle are expected to be issued to industry about March 17." NASA estimated shuttle development costs would be $5.15 billion and the cost per flight would be $10.5 million. A contract for shuttle development would be issued in summer 1972, with the initial orbital test flights with a crew aboard to occur in 1978. The NASA release stated "the complete Shuttle system is to be operational before 1980."7

This announcement brought down the curtain on the drama that had begun more than three years earlier. President Richard Nixon and his associates, with the decision to develop the space shuttle, had finally given an answer to the question "What do you do next, after the Moon?" That answer defined much of the U. S. civilian space pro­gram for the next 40 years. John Kennedy’s 1961 decision to go to the Moon led to the Apollo program, which lasted only from 1961 to 1975; Richard Nixon’s decision to build the U. S. post-Apollo space program around the space shuttle had a far more lasting impact.

Were There Alternative Choices Available?

There were some individuals both inside and outside of NASA who rec­ognized the difficulties in pursuing the full capability shuttle as NASA’s immediate post-Apollo project. NASA’s top spacecraft designer, Max Faget, argued as the shuttle program was gaining momentum in early 1969 that a first step should be a relatively small vehicle, which he characterized as the space equivalent of the first-generation DC-3 commercial aircraft. Secretary of the Air Force Robert Seamans during the Space Task Group deliberations suggested that “it is not yet clear that we have the technology” for a reusable space transportation system that would produce major reductions in the cost of transporting payloads into space, and suggested “a program to study by experimental means including orbital tests” the feasibility of such a system. As NASA awarded shuttle design study contracts in 1970, veteran flight director and then-deputy director of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center Chris Kraft warned “I don’t think we should try and build an ultimate vehi­cle the first time. . . I think we’ve got to be extremely careful that we don’t try to build a do-all vehicle. I don’t think we ought to talk ourselves into the fact that the shuttle is to do every job in the space program.”30 The idea that there should be an interim step before deciding whether to develop a full – capability shuttle was present throughout the shuttle debate, but was never embraced by those directly in charge of the shuttle program, who remained convinced that they could design and develop the kind of shuttle approxi­mating the advanced technology vehicle first suggested by George Mueller.

NASA’s leaders themselves, as the final decision on the space shuttle approached, harbored reservations about the viability of the full capability concept. George Low in August 1971, as he assessed alternative courses of action, concluded that “we should drop the shuttle right now and come up with a different manned space flight program.” He added that “this program should be based on an evolutionary space station development, leading from Skylab through a series of research and applications modules to a distant goal of a permanent space station. We should also set for ourselves a distant goal of a lunar base. The transportation system for this manned space flight pro­gram would consist of Apollo hardware for Skylab; a glider launched on an expendable booster for the research and application modules; and finally, the shuttle but delayed 5 to10 years beyond our present thinking.” As Low and Jim Fletcher prepared the NASA budget request due at OMB on September 30, 1971, they “debated whether we should not forego the shuttle entirely and develop instead some alternate manned space flight program.”

Fletcher and Low did not choose this option, getting little support for it from the NASA technical workforce and deciding that it was in NASA’s insti­tutional interests to seek immediate approval of an ambitious shuttle design. This was a fateful decision, since it polarized the shuttle debate; during the rest of 1971 NASA would make its case for approving the full-capability shuttle as a “best buy” rather than seek a compromise with shuttle skeptics in OMB and OST. The decision-making process functioned as it should, elevat­ing two shuttle options for presidential choice. But as the White House made the final shuttle decision, Nixon and his top advisers chose the wrong option. This was the second policy mistake connected to the space shuttle decision.

That going ahead with the full-capability shuttle was a course of action fraught with the potential for future problems was clear to some of those examining shuttle choices. For example, Alexander Flax had reported to sci­ence adviser David in October that “most of the members of the Panel doubt that a viable program can be undertaken without a degree of national com­mitment over the long term analogous to that which sustained the Apollo program. Such a degree of political and public support may be attainable, but it is certainly not now apparent.” Flax added “planning a program as large and as risky (with respect to both technology and cost) as the shuttle, with a long-term prospect of fixed ceiling budgets for the program and NASA as a whole does not bode well for the future.” This was prescient advice, but it was not heeded.

The commitment to NASA’s full-capability shuttle (which carried with it a future decision to develop a space station) created for more than four decades two very expensive “mortgages” on the NASA annual budget. Given that that budget was commanding a decreasing share of federal discretionary spending, the necessity of servicing these mortgages meant that there were limited funds available for other worthy space endeavors. As Bill Anders, a veteran of the shuttle decision process, recently commented, “the shuttle, like a cuckoo in the nest, pushed out many less sexy but higher pay-off sci­ence and commercial programs for lack of funds.”31

It is of course impossible to know what might have happened if the White House had chosen the OMB shuttle option. But it does seem that pursuing a less ambitious shuttle design as an intermediate step in the evolution of U. S. space capability might well have made more technical sense and could have initiated an evolutionary U. S. space program that would have been a better fit to the resources that the political system has made available to NASA over the past four decades.

There is another piece of evidence suggesting that the 1972 decision to develop the full-capability orbiter was a policy mistake. The absence in the wake of the shuttle’s 2011 retirement of any advocacy within the U. S. space community for replacing the NASA shuttle with a second generation system having similar or greater capabilities is striking. After 30 years of operating the shuttle, there is no current demand to replicate in one vehicle the capa­bilities that the shuttle provided.32

My assessment of the space shuttle program as a major element of the Nixon space legacy is a mixture of positives and negatives. It is a matter of judgment whether the former outweigh the latter. But I stand by my 1986 assessment that the decision to develop the full capability shuttle was indeed a “policy failure,” better characterized as a “policy mistake,” in that the con­sequences of that choice have had a strongly negative impact on the evolution of the U. S. space program. Jumping directly from Apollo to developing the full capability shuttle was “a leap too far.” Rather than being a cost-effective system providing highly valued capabilities, the shuttle turned out to be an expensive and difficult to operate vehicle. Arguing that the shuttle enabled the United States to develop the International Space Station is somewhat circular, since it is not yet clear that the station will turn out to produce benefits worth its development cost, and most likely there would not have been a space station (or at least the station that was constructed) without the shuttle.

Shuttle Studies Begin

The concept of a reusable space plane to carry people and equipment into orbit has a long history, and both NASA and the Department of Defense in the 1960s devoted significant attention to whether such a vehicle was tech­nologically feasible.2 But the first high-level designation of such a concept as a “space shuttle” came from NASA’s Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight George Mueller as he addressed the British Interplanetary Society in August 1968. Mueller projected that “the next major thrust in space will be the development of an economical launch vehicle for shuttling between Earth and the installations, such as the orbiting space station, which will soon be operating in space.” Mueller was of course aware of the various studies of reusable space vehicles, and realized that the space station program he saw as a major next step in space development would not be economically feasible unless there was a low-cost transport to “shuttle” crew and supplies to and from such an outpost. Mueller’s concept for such a system was a fully reusable vehicle capable of “airline type” operations.3

Mueller decided to fund several of what NASA designated Phase A fea­sibility studies to carry out an initial examination of the technical feasibil­ity of what was at that point called the integral launch and reentry vehicle (ILRV). NASA set out an initial set of performance requirements to guide these contractor studies. They included the capability to carry up to 25,000 pounds of cargo or ten passengers to the 270 nm, 55 degree orbit then being planned for a space station. The payload bay was to provide a volume of at least 3,000 cubic feet. The ILRV was to be able to launch within 24 hours of the decision to do so, and to be capable of returning from orbit to a designated runway within a day after a deorbit decision. To achieve such a return, a cross-range capability of 450 nm was specified. NASA initially told its contractors to assume a flight rate of 8 to 12 missions to a space station per year; the use of the system to launch other NASA missions or national security missions was at this point not part of the space agency’s thinking.4

NASA’s ability to design a space shuttle solely to meet its own require­ments was short-lived. One of the first decisions of the Space Task Group (STG) as it began its review of the U. S. space program in March 1969 was to direct NASA and the Department of Defense to jointly investigate whether a single, lower-cost vehicle could meet the needs of both organizations. A charter for the joint study was signed in early April by NASA Administrator Tom Paine and Secretary of the Air Force Robert Seamans. NASA’s George Mueller and Air Force Assistant Secretary for Research and Development Grant Hansen were named as the study’s co-chairs.

There were a number of formal and informal meetings during the April-June period between Mueller and Hansen to discuss top-level shut­tle requirements. At one of these meetings, Hansen’s top assistant Michael Yarymovych told Mueller that, if NASA wanted national security commu­nity support for the shuttle, the vehicle would have to carry payloads up to 60 feet long and would have to be able to operate from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast. After a California launch, the shut­tle would have to be able to carry out a one-orbit mission without overfly­ing the Soviet Union, so that it would not be exposed to potential Soviet interference, and then be able to return to land at Vandenberg. During the shuttle’s 90-minute or so orbit, the Earth would have rotated eastward some 1,100 nm, and thus the shuttle would have to have at least that amount of cross-range maneuvering capability to be able to land back at Vandenberg. Yarymovych told Mueller “we’d support the shuttle, but only if he gave us the big payload bay and the cross-range capability.” Mueller knew that this would mean changing the shuttle design that he and his NASA engineers preferred, “but he had no choice.”5

Following his meetings with the Air Force, Mueller called together the ILRV study contractors to inform them that the requirements originally speci­fied for their studies had to be changed in light of national security prefer­ences. He told the group that the vehicle should now be able to launch 50,000 pounds of payload to the space station orbit, rather than 25,000 pounds, and should have a payload bay providing 10,000 rather than 3,000 cubic feet in volume, which was translated into a bay 15 feet wide and 60 feet long.6

Fletcher Makes the White House Rounds

In his first month in office, Jim Fletcher made the rounds of White House people concerned with space issues, and found them skeptical about the prospects of approving the shuttle as NASA was then planning it. On May 4, the day after he arrived at NASA, Fletcher had lunch with Nixon assistant Peter Flanigan and science adviser Ed David. Fletcher reported to Low that with respect to the shuttle “Ed David took a rather negative view” and was “beginning to get cold feet about deciding to go ahead this fall.” David’s res­ervations included that he was “not yet convinced of the economic value” of the shuttle. His primary concern, however, was “political”; he feared that if “we hit Congress with something this large at this particular time, it might become another SST.” The Senate had canceled federal funding for that program in March 1971. David was also concerned, as were Fletcher and Low, about the large fraction of the NASA budget required for the shuttle program, “not leaving much room for [other] new programs along the way.” By contrast, “Peter Flanigan was not negative on the shuttle at all and was willing to be convinced.” Both David and Flanigan indicated that a NASA budget of $5 billion “was too large a peak for political salability.” David had heard rumors of the president’s interest in canceling both Apollo 16 and Apollo 17, and reminded Fletcher, referring to his intervention with the presi­dent the preceding December to avoid canceling Apollo 17, “that his name was signed in blood on this one” and that NASA “had better fight very hard for it since he had stuck his neck out so far.” David also suggested that “NASA ought to think seriously about alternatives to the shuttle.”29

David’s uncertainty about shuttle approval was also reflected in a brief memorandum regarding the shuttle he prepared at John Ehrlichman’s request in early May. Ehrlichman’s Domestic Council staff had identified the decision on whether to proceed with the shuttle as a major policy issue for 1971; Ehrlichman asked David to let him know “what has transpired and what the planning and time factor might be with regard to where we stand or plan for a decision on the shuttle.” After summarizing the current state of the program, David told Ehrlichman that “there is no commitment to devel­opment of the space shuttle system by the Administration, but it is clear that a decision will be required this fall if the shuttle is to proceed.” He added “personally, I am not yet in a position to support or to oppose the shuttle program. A great deal of important information remains to be assembled.” David also noted that “with the encouragement of OMB,” he was convening a “special panel” of the President’s Science Advisory Committee “to conduct a detailed review of the space shuttle program” and that “Dr. Fletcher, the new NASA Administrator, shares my desire to take a hard look at the pro­gram.”30

Fletcher also met with Bill Anders, executive secretary of the Space Council, who had been a confidential conduit to George Low of sensitive information regarding White House thinking on NASA issues. Anders was concerned with respect to filling the several-year gap in human space flights between the end of the Apollo and Skylab programs and initial space shuttle flights. Anders suggested to Fletcher that NASA could fill the gap by launch­ing four left-over Apollo spacecraft on Earth-orbiting missions.31

Phase B Extended and a New Approach to the Shuttle

While Low and others at NASA headquarters in Washington were con­sidering a glider or smaller shuttle, NASA’s engineers, particularly at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, and the shuttle study teams at NASA’s contractors were examining alternative ways of moving forward with an affordable program while still retaining the operational capabilities of the full-size shuttle in terms of payload capture and cross-range. They also were resisting the phased development approach advocated by NASA headquarters, which involved postponing development of a reusable booster. The engineering team at MSC had during the summer converged on an orbiter design that seemed to meet all requirements. This design, designated MSC-040, had triangular-shaped delta wings, a 15 x 60 foot payload bay, and a single expendable propellant tank containing both hydrogen fuel and oxygen oxidizer mounted under the airframe belly. That design would turn out to be the basis for the shuttle orbiter that eventually would be approved for development.

On September 14, the NASA human space flight leadership called its contractors together at MSC to discuss various changes in study direction. One shift of lasting significance was that all contractors were told to use the MSC-040 orbiter design as the baseline for further studies. NASA also directed the contractors to study a “phased technology” approach as a way of reducing short-term and peak funding requirements for shuttle develop­ment. In this approach, a “Mark I” orbiter using the MSC airframe design would be developed first; it would use existing technology, mainly derived from the Apollo program, as much as possible in areas such as thermal pro­tection, on-board electronic systems, and rocket engines. After a few years, a “Mark II” orbiter would be developed, incorporating advanced technology in terms of the thermal protection needed for demanding cross-range mis­sions, a new high-pressure space shuttle main engine, and state-of-the art electronics. Only the Mark II orbiter would be able to meet all NASA and national security requirements. This approach spread out over a longer time the total cost of orbiter development, thereby lowering the annual budget required but resulting in a higher overall program cost.

There was a major political problem with the Mark I/Mark II approach to shuttle development. NASA in July had announced that it had selected the Rocketdyne Corporation to develop the new rocket engine for use in the shuttle. But the Mark I orbiter would use modified Apollo-vintage J-2 engines, and thus the new engines would not be needed for several years; this put NASA in a potentially embarrassing position vis-a-vis Rocketdyne, a California-based company, at a time when the White House was eager to see all possible high technology government contracts go to that state. (Rocketdyne’s main competitor for the engine contract, Pratt & Whitney, with its rocket engine facility in Florida, lodged a formal protest regarding the contract award, implying that political considerations had played a role in Rocketdyne’s selection.) There was some merit to that argument. When Richard Nixon learned of the protest and the possibility that the engine con­tract might be taken away from a California company, his request was “if the contract does not go to the California firm, the White House should review the matter and possibly cancel the contract.”22