Finale

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.

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