Category After Apollo?

"Houston, We’ve Had a Problem&quot

The Apollo 13 mission was launched on the afternoon of April 11, 1970. Almost 56 hours later, with the spacecraft 200,000 miles from Earth, Apollo 13 commander James Lovell reported to mission control in Houston that “we’ve had a problem here.” Within a few minutes, NASA notified the White House situation room. National security adviser Henry Kissinger was informed at around 11:00 p. m. Kissinger called Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman, suggesting that President Nixon be awakened and informed of the situation, but Haldeman, in what Kissinger later characterized as “one of the mindless edicts by which Haldeman established his authority,” refused to contact the president on the grounds that this was merely a “technical prob­lem.” At 4:00 a. m., Haldeman changed his mind and decided to inform the president; he also called Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler, telling Ziegler to inform the press that the president was “in personal charge of the crisis.” Kissinger describes Ziegler’s interaction with the press as “verbal contortions to imply, without lying outright, that the President had been in command all night.”24

The story of the herculean efforts undertaken by NASA and its industry colleagues to achieve the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew—Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise—is well known and will not be repeated here. Once made aware of the risky situation, Richard Nixon became very emotionally involved in the crew’s fate. There were at the time intense discussions within the White House on whether to send American troops into Cambodia to attack North Vietnamese sanctuaries. Even so, according to Henry Kissinger, “the rescue of the astronauts absorbed a great deal of Nixon’s attention” and “took a heavy toll of Nixon’s nervous energy.”25

On the morning after the accident Ehrlichman suggested to Nixon that he might want to go to Houston to signal his personal concern about the fate of the crew; it took a call from Frank Borman to Haldeman to dissuade the president from making such a trip. Borman, who was in Houston, told the White House that Nixon’s presence would be a distraction as the NASA mis­sion managers struggled to find a way to get the crew safely back to Earth. Likely on the same call, Borman relayed to the White House the news that Vice President Agnew, who was in Iowa on a political trip, was intending to come to Houston “to take charge of the rescue efforts.” The director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Robert Gilruth, told Borman that “Agnew’s interference was the last thing NASA needed or deserved,” and asked “is there anything you can do to keep the Vice President away from here?”

In his call to the White House, Borman suggested that “Agnew’s presence in Houston would be about as welcome as a Martian invasion.” Haldeman kept an unhappy Agnew waiting for an hour at the end of an airport runway in Des Moines until he could consult with Nixon with respect to Agnew’s plans. When he did reach Nixon, the president “fully agreed” that Agnew should not go to Houston. Haldeman relayed that order to Agnew, who was “mad as hell.”26

The next day there were discussions among the president, Haldeman, and Borman on how to react to various outcomes of the Apollo 13 crisis; the astronauts’ survival was still very much in doubt. The three decided that if the crew returned safely, the president would go to Houston to congratu­late the NASA flight control team, then fly to Hawaii with the astronauts’ families to greet the crew as they returned to U. S. soil. If the crew did not survive, the president would go to Houston to “speak to the men of NASA and reaffirm his support of them and compliment them on their tremendous efforts to bring Apollo 13 home.”27

A “New NASA"?

In February 1971, retired Air Force General Bernard Schriever had told George Low that NASA might be “the only agency that can see to it that the country continues to develop the very advanced technology that is needed for our security and our survival.” Schriever was planning “to go to the President with a proposal that would maintain this capability within NASA, the Defense Department, and industry, by devoting some effort to advanced civilian technological problems.” Schriever in 1969 had been asked by pres­ident-elect Nixon to become NASA administrator but had demurred; how­ever, he still maintained good access to the top levels of the White House.19

It is not clear whether Schriever followed through on his initiative, but the idea of broadening NASA’s mission was in President Nixon’s mind as he was briefed on a possible major initiative to desalinate (remove the salt from) the ocean or other salty water so that it could be used for purposes such as agri­cultural irrigation or even human consumption. Meeting with Ehrlichman and Shultz on May 6 to discuss a possible desalination program, Nixon sug­gested: “Terrific. Put it in NASA. . . What if we change the name of NASA to the Experimental Space Agency. They have very bright guys. . . Don’t leave it over there with that Department of Interior with those damn geophysicists. Geologists, I mean.” The desalination briefing was repeated during a May 11 cabinet meeting. Haldeman reported that the briefing “really got him [Nixon] all excited, and he’s charging away now with that as his great new program. He wants to put a real crash effort behind it, put it under NASA or someplace where we can really get something going. . . He’s been interested in this to some degree before, but the presentation at the Cabinet meeting obviously cranked him up.”20

Meeting with Ehrlichman, Haldeman, and Shultz following the cabinet session, Nixon was still enthusiastic, saying “build the biggest [desalination] prototype that we possibly could in Southern California. . . Take the appro­priation, what is it, 27 million for this year? . . . Let’s move it up to 100 million dollars and . . . put the scientific effort to have it done in places like, maybe NASA.” Ehrlichman added, “put it in NASA and take it out of their bud­get. . . Cancel the rest of the moon program, and save a lot on the Spacelab [Skylab] and Mars. We’re not going to do any more lunar landings. We’re going to take all that money, you know 500 million dollars, and we’re going to put it on desalting possibilities.” Nixon chimed in: “I think the landing on the moon thing, see what we can do in terms of bugging that out. They’ll squeal but I need to put up the money [for desalination]. I can deal with the astronauts.” The conversations continued throughout the afternoon.

Ehrlichman: Supposing we would say to the new head of NASA, that he has been concerned about presiding over a finite operation, [but] here is an open door now to certain permanent new [missions].

Nixon: Can we name it something other than National Aeronautics and Space?

Ehrlichman: We’re working on that.

Nixon: If we put some research projects in a few places, wonderful. Put a lot of them in California.

Shultz: Why not take full advantage of everything about this? In broadening NASA’s horizons we can finally do that. They like the idea of a well defined mission in space and aeronautics, but they are gradually being brought to think a little bit more broadly.

Nixon: We can put it in terms of taking them to a mountaintop. We bring them in, we say, look, you have shown how it can be done, in other words we give you a project and we say go off and do it. Now we’re going to give you this one [desalination], and you go out and do it. And that’s the best way to get the teams [working], and you know how they get, they go “Ra-Ra-Ra” and they wear the blue shirts with. . . letters and things.21

The idea of changing NASA’s name to reflect a new purpose for the agency got White House attention soon after these conversations. Ehrlichman wrote Shultz on May 17, reminding him that “the President would like serious con­sideration given to changing the name of NASA to something designating a more domestic orientation.” The same day, speechwriter Bill Safire wrote Haldeman, saying “the idea of redefining the mission of NASA to include desalting water and other breakthroughs is great; the idea of calling it the National Applied Science Agency is horrible.” He observed that “we seem to feel bound to the acronym NASA, as if it were a trade name with high con­sumer acceptance too valuable to change. Baloney.” Safire added “if we are to widen the mission, let’s do it in a way that identifies the agency as our own, reflecting our own exciting view of the future.” Among Safire’s suggestions for a new name: “The Discovery Agency,” “Center for Exploration of the Unknown (CENEX),” and “National Scientific Breakthrough Agency.” But, he suggested, “let’s get the NASA people, who are an imaginative bunch, to focus on a name for their new agency.” He added a caveat to that thought: “no ‘technology’ or ‘applied science’ or other words that turn technicians on and turn people off.”22

NASA was informed of these discussions at a May 17 meeting between Fletcher, Ehrlichman, and Flanigan and then in a letter from Shultz asking NASA to discuss how it would diversify into other high-technology areas. Fletcher met with Shultz on May 25 for a broad ranging discussion of NASA’s future. Fletcher reported to Low that Shultz “was wondering whether we could do anything in NASA to solve some of the other problems which you [Low] and I have discussed at some length.” Fletcher and Shultz had dis­cussed “the value of technology in developing productivity in the country and also in the possible effect it might have in influencing the balance of trade.” Fletcher found Shultz “very lucid” and “not entirely inflexible. . . nei­ther sold that NASA should do a great deal more nor sold that they shouldn’t be, and at this point has an open mind.” Low in advance of Fletcher’s meet­ing with Shultz had prepared a memo providing his ideas on why “it might make sense to assign to NASA the government-wide responsibility for the application of technology to national needs,” because “NASA has demon­strated a capability to solve difficult technological problems and to apply systems management and know-how in the solutions of these problems.” Low saw two alternatives: (1) “NASA could provide its services to other agencies”; or (2) “NASA could do these things in its own right as part of an expanded NASA mission.” Low thought that, despite problems associated with the transfer of missions and programs from other agencies to NASA, which would cause bureaucratic conflicts, the second alternative “would be much more likely to succeed.” Low’s suggested name for a redefined NASA was the “Aeronautics, Space, and Applied Technology Administration.”23

On June 9, Low directed Edgar Cortright, the director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, to “undertake a study. . . to determine whether NASA has the capabilities to undertake the solution of non-aero­space technological problems; what types of problems NASA should con­sider; how NASA would work on those problems; and what implementing action would be required.” Cortright was to report back in “approximately one month.”24


As NASA entered the Fiscal Year 1973 “budget season” by submitting its proposed budget on September 30, 1971, its prospects remained very uncer­tain. On one hand, NASA might both receive presidential approval for a major new space effort, the space shuttle, and at the same time be asked by the White House to take on a much broadened role as the nation’s applied technology agency. On the other hand, NASA might not gain approval for the shuttle program, and some other approach might be chosen for the new technology opportunities effort. The short-term stakes for the organization’s future were very high.

Continuing Discussions of the Path Forward

The Space Shuttle extended study contracts expired on October 31 and NASA for a second time extended the contracts for another four months. The focus of the continuing effort was still the Mark I/Mark II orbiter sequence with various means of boosting it into orbit. Low reported in early November that “the shuttle configuration is beginning to be focused on a considerably smaller orbiter with external hydrogen and oxygen tanks (but with the same payload size and weight), and with a pressure-fed recoverable booster that might be parallel staged. . . It may be possible to buy a shuttle for an investment cost (including the high pressure [space shuttle main] engine of less than $5 billion with cost per flight of the order of $10 million. . . Solid rocket motors also look promising.” On the basis of these study results, Low suggested that “if NASA were left to its own devices, I think we are now in a position to make a decision to move out with contractor selection and to proceed with the work. I believe it is important to get a decision on this soon and within the FY1973 budget process, unless the decision is the wrong decision.” The wrong decision, in Low’s view, “would be a glider on a Titan III.” But NASA had “not yet done adequate analysis of the glider,” primarily due to the resistance from Dale Myers and his space flight team, and thus NASA “should not absolutely discard it. The next several weeks will tell the story.” Also, observed Low, “NASA is not left to its own devices, and it appears that everyone wants to have their fingers in the pot.” Low also noted that “the only organized effort to either support or not support the shuttle is the so-called Flax Committee.” It seemed to Low to be important for NASA to influence the thinking of Flax and his associates.27

Origins of the OMB Shuttle

The detailed performance and budget requirements for a smaller shuttle that OMB presented to NASA did not originate from the OMB staff, none of whom were aerospace engineers. Rice had sought outside advice on shuttle configuration and capability. He noted “some of my information came from the Defense Department, but not very much of it.” He added “some of it came from industry. There were clearly some people in industry who were concerned that NASA was going to lead them down the road of another C-5A or F-111 debacle and that they would end up with nothing.” The two programs Rice cited were DOD aircraft development efforts during the 1960s characterized by major cost overruns. Rice noted that “there was some interest at least among some people in the aerospace industry [in] hav­ing whatever was done be a program that was politically survivable.” That interest translated into an attitude of “let’s have it be less rather than more so it doesn’t turn out to cost so much and it is less likely to overrun and you can keep it.” Given this feeling, Rice worked with an aerospace firm, almost certainly one of NASA’s shuttle study contractors, to help his staff spell out the characteristics of a shuttle concept that both made technical sense and could be developed at an acceptable cost. Weinberger was aware of what Rice was doing, saying “Don Rice asked me if he could go out and get some other people, or he told me that he had.”21


As soon as NASA headquarters in Washington received confirma­tion that the presidential statement had been issued in San Clemente, Charles Donlan, director of the space shuttle program, sent a mes­sage to shuttle program manager Robert Thompson at the Manned Spacecraft Center, saying "NASA will proceed with the development of the space shuttle. The shuttle orbiter is expected to have a 15 x 60 foot payload bay, and a 65,000 pound payload capability. It will be boosted either by a pressure fed liquid recoverable booster or by solid rocket motors." The message contained detailed instructions to guide the next phase of shuttle studies.1

Reaction to the president’s announcement was mixed. The New York Times quickly editorialized that the shuttle was an "investment in the future" and that Nixon’s decision to approve the shuttle was "wise." Predictably, given their 1971 attempt to cut funding for shuttle studies, Senators William Proxmire (D-WI) and Walter Mondale (D-MN) announced that they would lead the Senate opposition to shuttle approval; in addition, Senator Edward Muskie (D-ME), at that point the likely opponent for Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election, also said that he opposed the program as a "boondoggle." Talking with his political operative Chuck Colson on January 9, Richard Nixon was pleased to hear that Muskie’s opposition to the shuttle "may have blown his chances in Florida completely." Nixon noted that "in Florida and California this [approving the shuttle] is a big deal. It will save the aerospace industry."2 Whatever else his approval of the space shuttle meant to Richard Nixon, he saw it as an asset in terms of his reelection prospects.

The Space Shuttle and the Space Station

From 1970 on, one of the performance requirements driving space shuttle design was NASA’s intent at some future point to use the shuttle to launch elements of a space station. This was recognized by the OMB staff, who observed in 1971 that “in a sense, a commitment to a shuttle is an implicit commitment to a subsequent space station program.” There is no evidence that this shuttle-station link was considered by the president and his senior advisers as the final shuttle decision was made, but the choice of the NASA shuttle design carried with it the virtual certainty that a future president would be asked to approve a shuttle-launched station.

That is precisely what happened. The shuttle’s first flight was in April 1981; soon after that flight, President Ronald Reagan’s nominees for NASA administrator and deputy administrator, James Beggs and Hans Mark, agreed that they “would try to persuade the new administration to adopt the construction of a permanently manned space station as the next major goal in space.” The two announced their intent at their Congressional confirma­tion hearing in June 1981, in essence repeating Tom Paine’s 1969 argument that the space station was “the next major evolutionary step in man’s experi­mentation, conquest, and use of space.” Beggs and Mark characterized the station as “the next logical step.” It took almost three years for NASA to gain presidential approval; during his State of the Union address on January 25, 1984, Ronald Reagan announced that “I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade.”27

Discussing the long and troubled history of the space station project is beyond the scope of this study; the point here is that from its 1968 origin as the logistics vehicle for a Saturn V-launched space station, through the 1970 decision to switch to a shuttle-launched station and then to defer sta­tion development until the shuttle was flying, to the final July 2011 outfit­ting mission to what had become the International Space Station, there was an unbreakable link between the shuttle and the station. That bond meant that, unless the station program was terminated early, NASA had to keep the shuttle in service until station assembly and outfitting were completed. The high costs of the shuttle and station programs thus dominated the NASA human space flight budget for almost 40 years.

Safe Return

Splashdown was set for just after 1:00 p. m. on the afternoon of April 17. Haldeman gives a vivid description of the events of the day:

Apollo 13 day. They made it back and the P [President Nixon] was really elated! Started out in the morning with some general details, then into a lot of plan­ning, etc., for his participation in the Apollo return. Had TV, squawk box, and [former astronauts] Collins and Anders set up in Alex’s [Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield] office to keep him posted. Kind of anxious about results but basi­cally confident that they’d make it, and all wrapped up on little specifics about the trip, which we have very well set up on contingency basis.

[material deleted]

For splashdown, P watched in Alex Butterfield’s office with Alex, me, Anders, Collins and K [Henry Kissinger]. Was very cranked up. Ordered cigars for all on success when learned that was Chris Kraft tradition at NASA. Put through call to wives immediately, then waited to call astronauts till they were aboard Iwo Jima [the recovery aircraft carrier] and had called wives. Meanwhile P called all the Congressional leaders and George Meany, saying to all, “Isn’t this a great day.” He was really excited. . . Then talked to astronauts and told them of trip plans, then out to press to do likewise, then over to the EOB [Executive Office Building] at about 3:30, with no lunch. Took a nap.

Nixon biographer Richard Reeves adds an additional detail to the day’s account. He suggests that as Nixon talked to the Congressional leaders after the splashdown, he was “having one drink after another,” and that soon after he reached his hideaway office in the Executive Office Building, “the President was drunk, falling asleep on the couch.” If that were indeed the

Safe Return

Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (foreground) and Space Council Executive Secretary Bill Anders join President Nixon and Henry Kissinger to watch as the Apollo 13 command module parachutes to a safe return. (National Archives photo WHPO 3359-7A)

case, Nixon recovered quickly; that evening he hosted a White House per­formance by country music singer Johnny Cash.28

On April 18, President Nixon flew to Houston. At the Manned Spacecraft Center, he presented the Medal of Freedom to the Apollo 13 mission opera­tions team. Then he flew to Hickham Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii. There he presented the Medal of Freedom to Lovell, Haise, and Swigert. He told the crew that “this was a successful mission, a great mission on behalf of your country. . . You did not reach the moon, but you reached the hearts of millions of people on earth by what you did. . . We realize that greatness comes not simply in triumph, but in adversity.”29

Richard Nixon’s associates never passed up an opportunity to portray the president in a positive light. Even as they planned how the president would deal with the unfolding crisis, they made sure that his involvement would reflect well on Nixon as a national leader. In the days after the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew, the White House approached Life magazine senior correspondent Hugh Sidey about “doing an inside story on the President’s involvement in and the attitudes, etc. during the Apollo 13 crisis.” It took several months for this suggestion to bear fruit, but eventually Sidey wrote a very positive account, saying that “the near tragedy of Apollo 13, a deeply emotional drama for all Americans, was even more so for the President.” The Apollo astronauts, Sidey suggested, were an “obsession” for Nixon, who viewed them “as more than heroes.” According to Sidey, Nixon, “in his single-minded manner. . . seems to be trying to assess and grasp the spirit of the astronauts.”30

Richard Nixon’s involvement with Apollo 13 has been discussed in some detail because the episode reinforced to his associates the reality that Nixon would never accept a future U. S. space program not including human space flight as an important element. In addition, Nixon’s concern for the astro­nauts’ safety became linked to a political calculus in his mind regarding possible negative political fallout from a similar problem on a future Apollo flight. When he got the impression that Apollo 17 was particularly risky, it is not surprising that Nixon’s first instinct was to cancel the flight.

Rethinking the Space Shuttle

One study of space shuttle development comments that during 1971 “pres­sures of financial stringency penetrated every aspect of the Shuttle program. Few high-technology development programs, if any, have been subjected to the kind of fiscal pressures and controls which the Shuttle Program endured, and it was during this period that they had the greatest impact on the design process.” Indeed, “the fiscal and political environment influenced the detailed engineering design decisions on a month to month, and at times, a day to day basis.”25

This pressure was already in the background as NASA’s Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight Dale Myers and his top associates decided in January 1971 to direct NASA’s contractors to restrict their stud­ies to a shuttle design that could meet all national security requirements. Myers convened a January 19-20, 1971, meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, attended by all those involved in shuttle studies. At the meeting, Myers announced the requirements that would guide the remaining months of the ongoing shuttle studies. Performance requirements included:

• The ability to launch 65,000 pounds into a due east 100 nautical mile (nm) orbit, which equated with the ability to launch 40,000 pounds into a polar orbit, a national security requirement;

• Nominal cross-range of 1,100 nm, the least amount acceptable to the national security community; up to that point, NASA’s contractors had been studying both a delta-wing orbiter design capable of 1,500 nm cross­range as well as one with straight wings and only 200 nm cross-range;

• Engines capable of generating 550,000 pounds of sea-level thrust. NASA had allowed its Phase A and Phase B contractors also to examine the use of an engine with 415,000 pounds of thrust, and most industry stud­ies had preferred that option. Myers’s directive removed that choice. The more powerful engine would be required to launch the heaviest NASA and national security payloads;

• The ability to return payloads weighing up to 40,000 pounds, also a national security requirement.26

Although the cross-range requirement had originated with the Department of Defense (DOD) and in the early stages of shuttle studies had been resisted by NASA, by this time many of those within NASA and industry involved in shuttle design efforts acknowledged the limitations of the straight-wing orbiter design, which was the preference of NASA’s Max Faget, and recog­nized that a high cross-range vehicle had a number of operational advantages in terms of dissipating energy during return from orbit and of getting the shuttle orbiter to an appropriate landing site from various orbits. Myers’s January 1971 directive eliminated the straight-wing design from further consideration; whatever shuttle design NASA would choose would have delta-shaped wings.

Enter a New Actor: the "Flax Committee&quot

Both OST and those dealing with space issues in OMB had recognized at the start of 1971 that a decision on whether or not to proceed with NASA’s space shuttle program would almost certainly be made during the consid­eration of NASA FY1973 budget request that fall. The two organizations decided that it would be useful to have an external group assess the techni­cal aspects of the NASA shuttle concept and the shuttle’s relationship to likely future space program activities. The Mathematica study was already underway to assess shuttle economics; there was a felt need for a parallel technical assessment by an expert group outside the government. To take on this task, science adviser David decided to constitute a “special panel” of the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC).

David discussed a potential chair for the panel with George Low in April. David’s first inclination was to have Gene Fubini be the chairman. Fubini was a well-known “gadfly” in the Washington technical community, respected for his technical acumen and insight, but notorious for his arrogance and quick temper. Low suggested that “Fubini would not be the right person because

(a) he is too flighty and jumps too much from one thought to another, and

(b) he really does not have any aircraft background to contribute to this.” Low suggested several alternatives among the respected leaders of the aero­space community. Low soon learned that David had selected one of his sug­gested people, Alexander Flax, as chair; Flax was head of the national security think tank Institute for Defense Analysis and from 1965 to 1969 had been Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for research and development and simul­taneously director of the National Reconnaissance Office. Low observed that “Ed David really wants to be helpful in establishing this panel.”11

Fubini was made a member of what quickly came to be known as the “Flax committee.” Other members of the group included both individuals with the aerospace engineering background needed to assess shuttle design and potential users of the shuttle’s capabilities. The Flax committee sched­uled its first meeting for August 13-15 at the National Academy of Sciences summer conference center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In advance of the meeting, OMB’s Don Rice sent David a list of questions that he hoped the Flax committee would address. In turn, David forwarded the questions to NASA so that NASA was prepared to respond as they interacted with the Flax committee. Among the ten questions were: [9]

• “How sensitive are the cost benefit relationships to changes in the rate of activity and assumptions about the lifetimes of unmanned satellites?”12

Also in advance of the Woods Hole meeting, Fubini met with Low. He told Low that the committee would work “under the premise that the Science Adviser cannot recommend to the President the cancellation of the United States manned space flight program”; the group should thus ask “what is the manned space flight program that (a) is acceptable from a budget point of view; (b) is clearly a step beyond what has already been achieved; and (c) is not dead-ended?”13

After the first Flax committee meeting, Dale Myers reported that in syn­thesizing his committee’s initial reactions Flax had suggested that the com­mittee “felt that . . . the broad implications of the shuttle had not yet been addressed.” The committee thought that “the peak funding and perhaps the total funding” for the shuttle program were too expensive to be acceptable and that “the program goes on too long before there is a payoff.” (At this point, NASA was still advocating in its external presentations the two-stage, fully-reusable shuttle design.) Flax had added that the committee’s view was that “a smaller, lighter, shuttle vehicle seemed to be in order” and that the “60 x 15 payload compartment may be larger than we need.” With respect to the reactions of other committee members, Myers observed that “Fubini felt that a program this long should have something spectacular every four years.” Committee member Richard Garwin from IBM “felt that there should be more effort on big, dumb boosters, parachute recovered boosters, automatic landing, unmanned flights of the shuttle, and much greater use of the data relay satellites where you can get rid of the men in the orbiter. . . All actions done by men in orbit can be done by men on the ground using a data relay satellite and good data transmission.” Myers said that “most of the other members of the Committee were not very outspoken.” Myers paraphrased the committee’s questions:

1. “Will the users really design cheaper payloads to take advantage of the volume and weight capability?”

2. “Will the launch rate stay at 40/year or greater during an era when satel­lite life is increasing?”

3. “Is there a firm requirement for a 15 x 60 payload compartment?”

4. “Why crossrange?”

5. “Why not build the booster first?” and

6. “Why not unmanned shuttles, with automatic landings, or para­chutes?”14

Low met with David on August 24 to discuss the results of the commit­tee meeting. It was David’s feeling “that the Flax Committee (with Fubini leading the pack) is going to come in with some interesting options” that “include a shuttle of about $5 billion total investment running about $1 bil­lion per year.” Low told David that NASA “was thinking along similar lines but so far had not discussed them in any detail with the Flax Committee.”15 These budget targets, no more than $1 billion per year and a total invest­ment cost for shuttle development of $5 billion, were by the end of August beginning to be recognized by NASA as defining the limits within which a proposal for presidential approval of the shuttle had the best chance of suc­cess. The question facing Fletcher, Low, and their engineering colleagues was whether a shuttle worth having, particularly one that met both NASA’s institutional needs and the requirements set out by the national security community, could be developed within those budget constraints. It was clear that the reusable two-stage shuttle, with development cost estimates of $10 billion or more, could not be pursued on a $1 billion per year budget; this had led NASA internally to abandon that option during the summer.