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Vest Reports to Clinton on Station Redesign

Abhilash R. Vaishnav

The Advisory Committee on the Redesign of the Space Station, headed by MIT President Charles M. Vest, recommended two options to the White House on June 10.

The panel was charged with redesigning plans for the current space station, named Freedom. Their recommendations aim to make the space station both more safe and less expensive than Freedom, saving the government $6 to $10 billion.

In addition to making technical recommendations, the committee suggested "major structural changes in the management and organization of the program within NASA and the civilian contractors." Specifically, there should be one principal contractor, and the total number of civil service and contractor employees should be reduced by 30 percent.

The committee recognized that the proposed changes do not fully meet the government's desired cost targets or scientific goals through 1998. However, "the ultimate cost of a space station and its operations will be minimized only if Congress and the Administration make a firm commitment to the program and provide stable funding," the committee reported.

Two options are recommended

The committee considered three options for attaining "permanent human capability" by the year 2000 or 2001 and running the station for 10 to 15 years after its completion.

The committee recommended Option A, a smaller design derived from Freedom, and Option C, a new single-launch design. It concluded that "Option A has an advantage in capability and lends itself to modular build up. Option C is the lowest risk and potentially lower in cost."

Option B would have required the fewest changes from the current design, but it was not recommended because it had the highest risk as well as the highest estimated cost, according to the report.

In addition, the committee suggested that a 51.6 orbit from the equator be used instead of the planned orbit of 28.8 because of added "safety, flexibility, and redundancy of launch and assured crew return vehicles." This change would add $100 million to the current developmental costs of $300 million.

The new orbit would also "allow for access to the station by as many space faring nations as possible," according to the report. It specifically recommended cooperation with the Russians to enhance the capability of the station and increase research opportunities.

The committee also recommended using expendable rockets such as the US Titan IV for lifting the heaviest space station elements, weighing about 15 tons each, into space. The current plan employs the Space Shuttle, which weights 100 tons.