Space: January 13, 2001


Officials at Space Command and in the space industry charge that senior Air Force leaders are not adequately supporting the development of reusable space planes for military missions. The Air Force routinely drops funding for its Space Maneuverable Vehicle program, but Congress restores this every year. The tenuous funding situation is damaging morale among program workers. The Air Force recently turned down an offer of $70 million to develop a military version of the NASA X-37 reusable launch vehicle. On the other hand, the Air Force fanatically opposes any idea of creating a separate Space Force, insisting that it must control all space missions outside of NASA. The key issue, analysts feel, is that the Space Shuttle never lived up to its promises for low cost and quick turnaround. The Space Shuttle's engines, advertised as capable of multiple missions, have to be completely disassembled and rebuilt after every flight, costing far more (and taking far longer) than the claims on which the program was sold to Congress. Senior Air Force officials simply do not believe that a reusable spaceplane can live up to its advertising.--Stephen V Cole


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