Scientists urge NASA to drop plans for space station High cost of orbiting lab could lower support for science, 14 groups say.

July 09, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

Some of the largest and most prestigious scientific organizations in the country were expected today to call for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to back away from plans to build Space Station Freedom.

At least 14 major organizations, including the American Physical Society, the American Chemical Society and the American Geophysical Union, are joining forces in the belief that the space station will be so costly that it will undermine financial support for a wide range of other scientific programs.

The organizations scheduled a news conference today in Washington to announce their joint opposition.

Some of the organizations have adopted individual position statements in recent weeks, including one from the American Physical Society that calls the potential contributions of the station "greatly overstated."

The statement notes that "many of the scientific objectives currently planned for the space station could be accomplished more effectively and at a much lower cost on Earth, on unmanned robotic platforms, or on the shuttle." The society represents physicists, including many who would be expected to use the station.

The station is expected to cost well over $30 billion, and some calculations push that up to $118 billion over the 30-year lifetime of the orbiting laboratory. The debate was intensified recently when the House of Representatives told NASA to go ahead and build the station, but take the money out of its regular budget, a move that could have a devastating impact on many space projects if it is upheld by the Senate.

NASA officials contend the criticism is misguided.

"Development and assembly of Space Station Freedom is our commitment to furthering America's leadership in space," NASA administrator Richard H. Truly, a former astronaut, said in recent testimony before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. "To turn our back on funding Freedom would eliminate a permanent American presence in space and put ourspace program in great jeopardy."

Truly testified that 100,000 American jobs would be lost if work on the station were halted, and he said that "America's credibility" was on the line.

The Senate is expected to consider the House bill as early as tomorrow. NASA officials are hoping the Senate will provide additional funding, but many doubt it will be enough to prevent a devastating impact on many competing projects.

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