NASA is literally going back to the drawing board to live within its budget and still find a way to build a space station to put Americans into space permanently.
"We have $6 billion more program planned than we have money for," William B. Lenoir, the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's space flight program, said Wednesday. Congress gave the agency three months to revamp a space station design that was six years in the making."It is our intention to come back in 90 days with the answers to what can we do, what makes sense . . . and still have a useful, affordable program," Lenoir told reporters. "If we cannot come up with what we consider a reasonable program then we would have to readdress whether we should even go forward with the space station."
The Bush administration had asked Congress to spend $2.51 billion in 1991 to propel the $37 billion space station into the hardware-building stage. The lawmakers allotted $1.9 billion instead and told NASA to build the station in smaller steps, each independent of the other.
They also squashed NASA plans to increase yearly spending for the station to $4 billion in 1996, telling the agency it could count on no more than $2.5 billion to $2.6 billion in any one year.
NASA had long planned to hold a comprehensive design review during the last two months of this year, and Lenoir said that process will go forward, even though the final design will have to be reduced in scope.
"We are not going to start over," he said. "We are going to use as much of the existing system as possible." Some of the modules may be built half-size to save money, but the whole station will be designed to accommodate additions later.
Congress told NASA it should be able to build a "man-tended" station with three or four shuttle flights, instead of six. Man-tended is the term used for periodic visits to the station by astronauts who fly there on the space shuttle for stays of 16 days.
Lenoir said plans remain to start construction in the spring of 1995, meaning the station would be ready for work early in 1996.
A frequent criticism of NASA is that it is building a Cadillac of a space station with all possible options when it should be building a Chevrolet instead.
Asked about this, Lenoir recalled that Johnny Cash once had a song called "One Piece at a Time," and said, "Maybe we are going to build a Cadillac one piece at a time."