Supporters of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's manned orbital station have expressed satisfaction with the outcome of a protracted debate over its size and cost. For this fiscal year, Congress trimmed its $2.45 billion budget request to $1.9 billion, and President Bush has asked for a 7-percent increase, to slightly more than $2 billion, for next year. What has emerged from NASA design studios is a greatly downsized, and cheaper (by $6 billion) project.
Critics, including some who want a station built, note that downsizing the station -- cutting living space to accommodate not eight astronauts but four, shaving electrical power from 75 kilowatts to 56 kilowatts and trimming experimental space -- also alienates its constituency.
That's not only a problem at home. Ian Pryke, chief of the European Space Agency's Washington office, pronounced his satisfaction with the shrunken station, but a report in the industry newspaper Space News says his agency may also cut back its proposed Spacelab, designed to fly with the station. In addition to shrinking the size of Spacelab, the European Space Agency has proposed delaying deployment of the lab by a year to 2000 and scrapping plans to make it compatible with the American-built station.