$626 Million Needed to Fix Shuttles : NASA’s Estimate Doesn’t Include Cost of New Orbiter
NASA officials, in their first estimate of the financial impact of the Challenger accident, told Congress today that they will need at least $626 million to pay for modification of the remaining three space shuttles.
James C. Fletcher, the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief, said the figure is tentative but told a Senate subcommittee, “At least this much we’ll be doing.”
The figure does not include the cost of a new orbiter to replace the Challenger, which blew up Jan. 28, killing its seven-member crew. Fletcher told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that he favors construction of a new orbiter, but the Administration has not yet submitted a formal request to Congress.
The $626 million, outlined by NASA controller Thomas Newman, includes $43 million to pay salvage and investigative costs arising from the Challenger accident; $46 million to maintain a steady supply of spare parts, and $537 million for corrective actions. That includes $250 million to redesign the solid-fuel rocket booster system, which is believed to be the cause of the Challenger accident; $125 million for changes on the space shuttle main engine, and $85 million for changes in the orbiter’s steering, braking and other systems.
Fletcher told the subcommittee that NASA has not yet decided whether it will recommend a redesign of the shuttle to let the crew escape during the first two minutes of flight, the period in which the booster is ignited. The Challenger was not equipped with such a system, meaning that the crew members would not have been able to escape even if they had known their lives were in danger.
NASA’s request was $100 million more than the $526 million being included for similar purposes in legislation proposed by Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah).
Garn said he had decided to propose $100 million less than NASA said it needed because not all the money is likely to be spent during the coming fiscal year.
At the White House, presidential spokesman Larry Speakes said President Reagan has not yet received recommendations about shuttle appropriations from an Administration task force. Speakes said Reagan would meet with the task force today but added, “I do not anticipate final decision today and certainly no announcement.”