Presidential Announcement Scheduled

Nixon on November 24 had indicated that he should announce his approval of shuttle development “out in California where you are going to put it.” Fortuitously, Nixon was scheduled to fly to California on the evening of January 3 in advance of a January 6 meeting at the Western White House in San Clemente with Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. His presence there provided the opportunity for an early announcement of shuttle approval.

There was some initial confusion at the White House about what actually was being announced. On December 30, Nixon’s political advisor Charles “Chuck” Colson initiated a proposal that President Nixon should visit the Rocketdyne plant in Canoga Park, California, to “announce the initiation of research on engines for the space shuttle.” Colson had not realized that the announcement would deal with the shuttle overall, not just its new engine. He also was seemingly unaware that the engine contract award was being protested by Rocketdyne’s competitor, Pratt & Whitney, and thus it would have been inappropriate for the president to visit the Rocketdyne plant. When these realities were recognized, the Colson recommendation was quickly withdrawn in favor of a December 31 proposal by Peter Flanigan that Nixon meet with Fletcher and Low on January 4 (soon changed to January 5) “to discuss the decision to go ahead with the shuttle program which will insure the continuation and expansion of thousands of additional jobs in the space industry. This announcement is particularly significant to Southern California.” Once again, the employment impact of starting the shuttle was identified as of high importance. Flanigan’s schedule proposal noted that “at a recent budget session in Key Biscayne [likely referring to the December 3 meeting, since there were no other budget sessions on the president’s published calendar while Nixon was in Key Biscayne between Christmas and New Year’s Day] the decision was made to go ahead with the space shuttle program. Some of the mechanics in implementing the pro­gram have still to this moment not been completely resolved, but will be on Monday, January 3.”19

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