By announcing that Morton Thiokol's shuttle rocket facility at Brigham City will be phased out between 1994 and 1997 in favor of a new governmnent-owned plant elsewhere, NASA seems to be jumping the gun on something that hasn't been officially decided yet.

While it's true that the proposed new federal budget contains $27 million for study and design of a federal rocket booster plant, that expense has not been approved. And the estimated $1.3 billion it would take to get such a new facility built and into operation certainly is not in any budget.The proposed new plant would be used to produce the next generation of rocket boosters the more powerful Advanced Solid Rocket Motors that will be necessary for shuttle flights in the mid-1990s.

Thiokol will continue to make the current shuttle boosters until late in the next decade and is one of five aerospace firms interested in building the powerful new motors. Four of the companies say they are interested in operating a government-owned plant, while Thiokol wants to upgrade its Utah facilities.

But NASA apparently has already decided that the new motors will be built in a federal plant closer to the Cape Canaveral launch site and accessible by rail and water which would rule out Thiokol.

However, as this page noted earlier, constructing a government-owned plant would fly in the face of President Reagan's policy of getting the federal government out of operations that private firms can do. This would be a step backwards.

In addition, it would go against a more specific principle announced earlier by the White House to get private business more involved in sponsoring, financing, and carrying out space programs outside of the NASA monopoly.

Aside from such objections, the major hurdle in creating a government-owned facility is the cost. At a time when the budget is still awash in red ink, what justification can there be for a $1.3 billion project, particularly one as unncessary as this?

Private aerospace companies Thiokol and others have existing plants, at least some of the available machinery for a new generation of rockets, trained personnel, and vast experience in making boosters for the government.

Let them bid on the latest booster model as in the past. NASA isn't going to get a better deal by building its own expensive facility.