Space Station, AIDS, Environment at Top of List : Science Groups Urge Bush to Take Action

Times Staff Writer

The elite of American science, hoping to draw the new Administration’s attention to pressing issues of research, called Thursday on President-elect Bush to commit the nation to building a manned space station, to give new coherence to the fight against AIDS, to step up global environmental studies and to appoint an effective science adviser quickly.

The advice to Bush, who has yet to name appointees to any of the major research and technology agencies, came in the form of four “white papers” issued jointly by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

See Critical Juncture

The three organizations comprise the government’s leading sources of independent wisdom on issues of science and technology. Their collective message was that time and events place Bush at a critical juncture that will affect American competition for decades in research fields from space to superconductors.


“Given human aspirations and technical capabilities,” the paper on space policy declared, “it is difficult to deny that some men and women will eventually live and work on other celestial bodies. . . . The question becomes what role, if any, the United States wishes to play in humanity’s quest to become a multiplanet species.”

The paper stopped short of explicitly endorsing the proposed $30-billion space station, dubbed “Freedom” by President Reagan. But the chairman of the science academy’s space panel, H. Guyford Stever, told a news conference that a manned orbiting station is a “prerequisite” to continuing American exploration of deep space.

Want Revitalized NASA

In an oblique slap at James C. Fletcher, the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration--who accepted the job reluctantly in 1986 at Reagan’s request--the space policy paper said that improved management is “essential” in NASA to revitalize the agency.

It also urged that several of NASA’s field research centers be turned over to private contractors and operated along the lines of the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, in part to escape salary limits of federal civil service that are said to be driving the best minds into private industry.

On AIDS, the Institute of Medicine asked for no additional research money. Instead, it appealed to Bush to provide more coherent presidential leadership to educational and anti-drug programs, to prevent discrimination against carriers of the AIDS virus and to develop a national plan to care for those with the active disease.

“During your term in office, AIDS will claim over 200,000 American lives,” the institute noted.

Global Environment

A third paper dealt with global environmental problems--climatic warming, acid rain, tropical deforestation and man-made damage to the earth’s protective ozone layer. It urged Bush to give greater prominence to all four issues and to take steps to curb ozone-destroying chemicals even faster than a new international agreement requires.

Additionally, it recommended a greater emphasis on the use of natural gas and safer designs of nuclear power plants.

The three academies also urged the President-elect to move quickly to appoint an experienced and impartial science adviser as a signal of serious interest in issues of research and development.

“If the position does not have a high-level status in the White House, and the appointment is not made early, it will be difficult to recruit an individual with the requisite stature and attributes,” they warned.

Critical of Advice

They said that ineffectual science advice in the Reagan White House was responsible for an “uncoordinated” and “hastily improvised” government response to the sharp U.S. loss of world market share in computer microchips and a “tepid” reaction to potentially revolutionary advances in new superconductor materials.

The early appointment of a science adviser, the academies noted, would help ensure that some two dozen key subcabinet posts dealing with science and technology are filled by the most competent recruits.

To the satisfaction of the science community, Bush already has promised to elevate his science adviser to the status of a full presidential assistant. There has been little enthusiasm, however, at the announced prospect of Vice President-elect Dan Quayle heading a national council to set space policy goals.