A “Go” for Shuttle Development
On March 14, Don Rice gave NASA oral approval for developing the NASA-recommended shuttle configuration, an orbiter with a 15 x 60 foot payload bay and using solid rocket motors to assist in its launch. The next day, NASA issued a press release saying: "NASA announced today that the Space Shuttle booster stage will be powered by solid rocket motors in a parallel burn configuration. The booster stage will be recoverable. Requests for proposals for design and development of the Space Shuttle are expected to be issued to industry about March 17." NASA estimated shuttle development costs would be $5.15 billion and the cost per flight would be $10.5 million. A contract for shuttle development would be issued in summer 1972, with the initial orbital test flights with a crew aboard to occur in 1978. The NASA release stated "the complete Shuttle system is to be operational before 1980."7
This announcement brought down the curtain on the drama that had begun more than three years earlier. President Richard Nixon and his associates, with the decision to develop the space shuttle, had finally given an answer to the question "What do you do next, after the Moon?" That answer defined much of the U. S. civilian space program for the next 40 years. John Kennedy’s 1961 decision to go to the Moon led to the Apollo program, which lasted only from 1961 to 1975; Richard Nixon’s decision to build the U. S. post-Apollo space program around the space shuttle had a far more lasting impact.