A version of this diary is cross-posted at NMSTARG.
By the time of Nixon's Presidency (January 1969), our country was going though a bi-polar moment. On the one hand, we were about to land human beings on the moon, an achievement so profound that millions would be soon watching on their TVs. Yet at the same time, NASA was facing budget cutbacks so sever as to almost destroy the space agency.
NASA tried valiantly to make the politicians understand the importance of a vibrant space program. If nothing else, it was a great way to wage war with the Soviet Union without firing one shot, except rockets into space "for all mankind". JFK understood this; while he was building up a weapons industry, he also built up a spaceship industry. All in the name of fighting the USSR in the skies above.
It is the height of irony that the crowning achievement (Soviet humiliation?) that was Apollo 11 brought the final curtain down on the ailing space program. "Why should we keep beating the USSR over and over again?" came the indignant cry from the masses. Maybe because the space program should have been more than just something to bludgeon our mortal enemy (at the time) over the head?
What we threw away was criminal. To allow the hopes and dreams of young people as they grew to be inspired by what they saw on TV to wither and die is a terrible embarrassment. It really was a shameful period in US history.
More after the jump...
By the year 1969, NASA was ready to land on the moon. However, even during this time of glory, some where asking why go to the moon at all, and, more importantly, what does NASA do for an encore?
So the NASA people got together and came up with a plan; it was called the IPP (Integrated Program Plan). The plan called for building a reusable Space Shuttle, a LEO Space Station and Base, a LLO Space Station, and a Lunar Surface Base. A Lunar Shuttle along with an Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) would have been used to transfer cargo and passenger to and from the moon. The OTV even had an add-on that would convert it into a Lunar Lander! All of this was on top of the already operational Saturn V Expendable Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (EHLLV).
The best part was how NASA planned to reuse Apollo hardware to reduce costs and make things simple. "Reuse and Commonality" could have been their mission statement (sound familiar?).
It really was the most natural and logical way to proceed after the moon landings. So, of course, NASA never had a chance to implement it.
NASA was doomed from the beginning with a new President (Nixon) wanting to slash NASA's budget, and a new NASA administrator (Paine) who naively went ahead with the IPP proposal despite the budget warnings from the White House. In this tug of war, Nixon and the budget won, and NASA, essentially, lost.
At the start of the Nixon Presidency, the big question involving space wasn't about the moon. Oh no. Instead: To Space Shuttle or not to Space Shuttle; that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous expendable rockets, or to take arms against a sea of reusable space shuttles.
The Space Shuttle being talked about in the late 1960's and early 1970's was a totally reusable system, usually involving 2 vehicles with crews. Every major aerospace company in the US participated in some kind of design study. Most in the astronautics community were convinced of the logic behind the idea of reusing a vehicle after a flight, instead of throwing it all away and building another one.
There was only one catch.
As always when such vast sums are involved, politics got in the way. A fully reusable Space Shuttle would have been very inexpensive to operate, but would have been very expensive to research and develop it.
George Low, a NASA Deputy Administrator, drew a great graph of problems facing Space Shuttle costs:
As you can see, if you want a low operating cost, then be prepared to pay a high development cost. If you want a low development cost, then be prepared to pay a high operating cost.
Nixon was having none of the high development costs associated with the Space Shuttle; not when there was a war going on in Vietnam. So the Space Shuttle suffered, but at least the war went on...
The Decision Point in the above graph is where the Space Shuttle that the US built was at. It was a trade off: a medium operating cost for a low development cost.
What the US had actually built was in reality a bad machine, compared to what we could have had. Many design flaws were evident after the Challenger accident in 1986, and as a result, no one looked at the Space Shuttle as a viable way to get into space any more. More importantly, it was actually kinda dangerous to fly.
IMHO, Nixon killed every astronaut that died in the Space Shuttle. Cost issues and a weakened budget forced safety compromises that doomed the two Space Shuttle flights that eventually crashed.
A well designed shuttle will not only save lives,, it can also save money (in the long run).
What a concept.