Finally, a Decision

In preparation for the January 3 White House meeting, the NASA lead­ers prepared a letter reporting on their conclusions following the harried weekend of answering OMB’s questions. The letter reported that “the previ­ous conclusion that the full capability 15 x 60—65,000# shuttle makes the most sense has been reaffirmed and we now urge—even more strongly— that this configuration be adopted.” It said that “the OMB proposed option of a 14 x 45—30,000# shuttle is not acceptable because it will not handle manned space station modules, manned sortie flights, or manned resupply missions in a standard space station orbit.” In addition, “this shuttle would not handle 28 different science, applications and planetary payloads.” Once again, NASA asked for an “Administrator’s contingency” of 20 percent of the estimated development cost to accommodate “future cost growths due to technical problems.”12

Before their meeting, Fletcher and Low stopped by the offices of the Space Council across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to dis­cuss with Bill Anders, who had become an ally in their conflict with OMB and OST, “what they were going to say and what they thought the state of play was. Clearly they thought everything was still under scrutiny and study and it wasn’t close to a decision.” Then they went to Shultz’s White House office; the 6:00 p. m. meeting was attended by Shultz, Weinberger, Rice, David, Flanigan, and Nixon Congressional liaison Clark MacGregor. David briefly restated his opposition to going ahead with the NASA-recommended 14 x 45 foot shuttle, but Shultz quickly overruled both David and Rice and told Fletcher and Low that they could proceed with their plans for the full capability 15 x 60 foot, 65,000 pound shuttle. At some point between December 29 and January 3, Shultz had telephoned fellow economist Oskar Morgenstern to discuss the Mathematica study of shuttle econom­ics that Morgenstern’s firm had carried out; Morgenstern assured him that the shuttle was a reasonable program in economic terms. (One report even had Shultz making the call to Morgenstern during the January 3 meeting, but this seems unlikely, given the short duration of the meeting.) With that assurance, aware of the impact of the shuttle on aerospace employment, and also apparently aware of President Nixon’s interest in the national security missions enabled by the full capability shuttle, Shultz had decided before the meeting to approve NASA’s full capability shuttle configuration. Within a few minutes, Fletcher and Low were back in the Space Council office, “kind of elated,” to report “we didn’t have to say a word; we were just told that the decision was to go ahead” with the full capability shuttle that NASA had been advocating all along. When the two NASA leaders returned to NASA headquarters and reported the outcome of their meeting to human space flight chief Dale Myers, he was “amazed.”13

The next day, to be sure that his understanding of what had been decided was correct and to get that understanding on the record, Fletcher wrote Weinberger “to document the decision reached yesterday concerning the space shuttle.” As Fletcher understood it: “NASA will proceed with the development of the space shuttle. The shuttle orbiter will 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. NASA will make a decision between these two booster options before requests for proposals are issued in the spring of 1972.” In addition, “NASA and indus­try will also continue to study, for the next several weeks, a somewhat smaller version of the orbiter. . . The main purpose of studying this smaller shuttle is to determine whether or not significant savings in operational costs can be realized, with [already existing] solid rocket motors, at this smaller size.”14

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