Reagan Orders NASA To Halt Launch of Commercial Payloads
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan is shifting the job of launching commercial satellites to private industry ″with its ingenuity and cost effectiveness,″ ordering NASA to concentrate on payloads important to defense, foreign policy and science.
The major change in space policy was announced Friday along with Reagan’s decision to order a replacement for space shuttle Challenger. The new ship should be ready to fly in 1991, said Richard Truly, head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s shuttle program.
″The private sector, with its ingenuity and cost effectiveness, will be playing an increasingly important role in the American space effort,″ the president said in a statement read by spokesman Larry Speakes.
″Free enterprise corporations will become a highly competitive method of launching commercial satellites and doing those things which do not require a manned presence in space,″ Reagan said.
The president’s decision, however, was called ″inadequate and indefensible″ by three Republican senators who play large roles in congressional oversight of the space program. They support building a fourth shuttle but said the president’s announcement left unclear how the ship will be paid for.
There are only a few private launch companies in the United States and none have launched commercial satellites. Under the new plan, these companies would be allowed to lease government launch facilities but they would have to purchase rockets, which for at least three years will be in short supply.
″These private firms are essential in clearing away the backlog that has built up,″ Reagan said.
The remaining three shuttles have been grounded since the Challenger explosion Jan. 28. The modifications and design changes ordered in the wake of the accident will not allow a flight before early 1988.
The orbiter, along with spare parts, will cost about $2.8 billion.
The White House spokesman said 15 of 44 commercial payloads NASA had already contracted for will eventually find room on the shuttle.
″We believe that the government getting out of the commercial space business will eliminate a major fear private enterprise has - competing against the government,″ Speakes said.
NASA’s administrator, James C. Fletcher, said the agency was pleased with the decision and that ″the president, like the American people, knows that in this day and age the United States dares not, for political and psychological reasons, let its lead in space slip away.″
Money for the new shuttle will come from savings found within NASA and other areas of the government, Speakes said. He said the government plans to spend $272 million in fiscal 1987, which begins Oct. 1, $665 million in fiscal 1988, $715 million in fiscal 1989, $515 million in 1990 and $180 million in 1991.
But Republican Sens. John Danforth of Missouri, Slade Gorton of Washington and Jake Garn of Utah said ″NASA does not have an extra $250 million to $280 million in next year’s budget to begin replacement, nor does it have the rest of the $2.8 billion necessary to complete the project over the life of the construction program.″
Danforth is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Gorton chairs the space subcommittee; Garn, who has flown in space, is chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA spending.
Asked if the money for the shuttle might come in part from the space station program, Speakes said, ″No - full funding for space station.″