Debating a Shuttle Decision
^With the September 30, 1971, submission of NASA’s Fiscal Year (FY) 1973 budget request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the process that would most likely result in an up-or-down decision on approving space shuttle development or pursuing some less ambitious post-Apollo human space flight program entered its final stage. Even though Cap Weinberger had suggested in his August 12 memo that the NASA budget should be set at a level that would allow the beginning of space shuttle development and President Nixon had indicated “I agree with Cap,” that news had not been communicated to lower levels in the White House or to NASA. The result was a fragmented and contentious debate over shuttle approval.
Over the next three months, as NASA’s Jim Fletcher and George Low sought support in the national security community and the aerospace industry for NASA’s position that a “full capability” shuttle orbiter able to launch all U. S. payloads should be approved for development, OMB’s Rice and his staff were joined by science adviser Ed David, his Office of Science and Technology (OST) staff, and David’s advisory Flax committee in opposition to an ambitious space shuttle program. Others in the Executive Office of the President, such as Tom Whitehead, now at the Office of Telecommunications Policy, Bill Anders at the Space Council, and Peter Flanigan and his assistant Jonathan Rose in the White House, tried to mediate the conflict between NASA and OMB/OST and to move the process toward a productive outcome.
The debate over what should be the next step in human space flight, although conducted in the context of decisions with respect to the president’s FY1973 budget proposal, was not intimately tied to NASA’s budget level for that year, since NASA had requested only $228 million for the space shuttle in its budget submission. Rather, it was fundamentally about what kind of space program the United States would carry out in the coming decade and beyond. Approving a new start on the full capability shuttle would imply that once the shuttle was flying the United States would use it as the basis for an active national space effort, even if it were far less ambitious than what the Space Task Group had proposed in 1969. Choosing a more modest shuttle
option or an alternative to the shuttle such as an unpowered glider would signify the Nixon administration’s intent to reduce even more NASA’s post – Apollo ambitions with respect to the future of human space flight.