Space station, collider to be spared

February 06, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration pledged yesterday not to cancel the nation's two premier science projects -- the $30 billion Space Station Freedom or the $8.2 billion superconducting super collider -- but left open the possibility of sharp budget cuts that could cripple both programs.

The controversial space station, critical to the beleaguered aerospace industry, is the principal target of cost-saving measures outlined in the last week by Leon E. Panetta, director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to industry and congressional sources.

But powerful members of Congress began an intense lobbying effort to save the station yesterday, as word began circulating among aerospace industry leaders and on Capitol Hill that Mr. Panetta had stepped up efforts to cancel one or both of the science programs.

White House spokesman George Stephanopoulos later put the "worst case" scenario to rest. The president is "not canceling the super collider or the space station," he said, adding Mr. Clinton was "looking at all areas of the budget for appropriate cuts."

The final decision, expected by Tuesday, would represent a watershed in Mr. Clinton's young presidency. The debate pits powerful factions in the administration who want him to honor his pledge to attack the budget deficit against those who insist that he commit the United States to developing new technology to carry it into the 21st century.

During the presidential campaign, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore vowed to back continued funding for both science programs.

To be launched in pieces aboard the space shuttle fleet beginning in late 1995, the space station is intended to serve as an orbiting science laboratory and jumping-off point for future manned space exploration. It is to be completed by 2000.

A longtime critic of the station during his tenure in the House of Representatives, Mr. Panetta reportedly has told the president that eliminating the program would save $2 billion in the 1994 fiscal year -- which will begin Oct. 1 -- and billions more over the project's life. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration already has spent $8 billion on the project.

The superconducting super collider, to be built near Dallas, would be the world's largest particle accelerator and, according to its supporters, could help unlock the secrets of the origin of the universe. Congress approved $550 million for the project in the 1993 fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1.

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