Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[220] After the first few years in which the Space Science Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee saw NASA get under way, advised on such matters as orbiting astronomical observatories, sounding rockets, and universities, and supported NASA in the battle over classification of geodetic satellite data, interest among panel members appeared to wane. For some years attention to what NASA was doing was somewhat desultory. In the latter half of the 1960s, however, when NASA's bumbling over what to do in post-Apollo years helped to precipitate a crisis of confidence over the agency's planning, interest reawakened.
After studying the matter of manned space stations at some length, the panel issued a report endorsing the Apollo Workshop, or Skylab, program as a one-time-only experiment in determining what man could do in a space station, but withholding support from any continuing space station [221] work until Skylab results were available and more mature consideration could be given to the matter. When the author testified on the Hill shortly after the report came out, he found that Congressman Karth had been giving a great deal of attention to what the panel had to say; and his copy of the report, amply marked up either by the staff or Karth himself, was a source for a great many questions on the space science program.35
The panel's negative attitude toward permanent space stations persisted throughout the work of preparing a draft report for the Space Task Group. In this the panel was opposed to Administrator Paine, who wanted to proceed at once with a permanent space station, as the next natural step in the space program. It was the panel's view that before proceeding with a space station, a more economical and versatile means of transportation to and from the station should be developed. In this respect-although with some ambivalence and quite tentatively-it supported a Space Shuttle project as the next major manned spaceflight effort for the nation. How much influence the panel had in securing ultimate support for the Shuttle program is moot. But at any rate in this last great issue to come before the panel before its demise in January 1973 at the hands of President Nixon, the members were pointing in the direction NASA came to regard as the right one for the country.