Shepard during Freedom 7 flight on May 5, 1961.

The Space Program and the National Interest

In1900 the population of scientists and engineers in the United States numbered one in 2,000. Today the ratio is one in 120 and the figure is still mounting. Current federal expenditures for research and development are $15.7 billion. During the postwar era these appropriations built the American research establishment to a level of strength beyond that of any other nation. Throughout the 1950s and most of the 1960s the build-up continued without opposition. Recently the taxpayer has begun to regard the House of Science with a degree of concern, because the costs of technological programs have become staggering in the last few years. Painful choices are being forced on the Congress. Shall program A or program B be funded? Each is so expensive that it seems impossible to fund both. Which will advance the national interest more? The general value of research is also being subjected to a closer examination. At what level of support does science make its maximum contribution to society? If the science we have purchased so far has been beneficial, will twice as much science be twice as beneficial?

The space program is a case in point. On January 5, President Nixon announced that "the United States should proceed with the development of an entirely new space transport system . . . the space shuttle which gives us routine access to space by sharply reducing costs in dollars." The decision to proceed with the shuttle was based in part on the dollars-and-cents savings it would yield, which are estimated to run to more than $12 billion in the first decade of shuttle operations against shuttle costs of $8 billion for development and hardware. But a bargain in bananas only represents a savings if the customer needs bananas. Why does America need a space program? Why does she need a man-in-space capability? What is the relation of space to the national interest?

To some, space is, or should be, pure science; to others, it is prestige and the American image; to still others, space means national security.

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