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.

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