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NASA Scientists’ Panel Asks Redesign of Space Station

March 21, 1987

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) _ A NASA advisory committee of scientists criticized the agency’s plans for a space station, saying the project should be overhauled to reflect funding cutbacks and other changes since the Challenger explosion.

The panel, chaired by Stanford University professor Peter Banks, told National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials Friday that NASA could ″lose an entire generation of space scientists″ unless it changed both the station and the space transportation fleet.

The scientists blamed the problems on NASA’s inattentiveness to the space station program since the shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members.

″There needs to be a fundamental ... revision of space station plans in order to accommodate the terrible disaster that has befallen space science,″ said Banks, noting that the budget for space science has been cut in half in recent years.

The committee also said it should build a new, reusable, unmanned rocket called a heavy launch vehicle to provide transportation for the station because the shuttle can no longer provide sufficient numbers of flights.

Shuttle flights were stopped after the Challenger tragedy.

Some NASA officials expressed surprise at the criticism of the panel, formally known as the Space and Earth Science Advisory Committee Task Force on Scientific Uses of Space Station. They called it politically unrealistic to expect a major change now in the space station design.

Peter Black, NASA’s chief scientist, agreed with the need for a heavy launch vehicle. But, he said, ″I haven’t heard any compelling reason for redesigning″ the space station.

The committee also recommended that NASA:

- Investigate having private industry build the heavy launch vehicles and lease them out when NASA has built the space station.

- Redesign the space station so it could fit in the heavy launch vehicle to contain initially one large living and working module instead of the current multiple-module design, in order to get a manned station aloft faster.

- Put up elements of the station earlier than planned so that scientists could actually begin working in space before 1995, the currently scheduled start-up date.

- Redesign the shuttle to allow it to stay in space for more than two weeks.

- Speed development of unmanned platforms for scientific research to be placed in orbit in conjunction with the space station.

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