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Lost In Space

June 2024
1min read

I was fascinated by the article “Lost in Space: What Went Wrong With NASA?” in the November 1992 issue of American Heritage . From 1977 to 1983 I was president of RCA American Communications, a pioneering satellite-communications carrier, and I had many contacts with NASA, which provided the launch services for our satellites. The comments in the article about the NASA shuttle program are absolutely correct, and I have something to add to them.

The shuttle was alleged to be a cheaper way of launching satellites because the launch vehicle was reusable. We were very suspicious of this claim, first because of the need for added reliability of a manned vehicle and second because refurbishing is often more expensive than building anew.

NASA confirmed its position that the shuttle would be cheaper by quoting a lower price for a shuttle launch. It was soon evident, however, that it was a highly subsidized price. In 1981 I expressed my opinion on this matter in an internal RCA memorandum: “To some extent this result [the higher cost of the shuttle] should [have been] expected because there has been a conspiracy of deception to which both the deceivers (NASA and the Department of Defense) and the deceived (Congress) were parties. In the eyes of many, the real purpose of the shuttle was its ability to launch very large and heavy satellites to put men and complex surveillance systems1 in space for military purposes. From this standpoint, the claimed cost savings of the shuttle for commercial satellites was a convenient smoke screen …”

NASA sold the shuttle program to Congress, and almost everybody got something: the NASA bureaucracy got a major program; the technical community got a major source of employment on an interesting and challenging project; the aerospace industry got a major new market; and the military got a powerful launch vehicle without the political problems of an allmilitary program.

The only losers were the taxpayers.

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