President Richard M. Nixon announces that NASA will develop a space shuttle system, touting its reliability, reusability and low cost.
and Gemini programs had put Americans into Earth orbit. Apollo
had been to the moon seven times — landing
four times — and would return to land twice again later in 1972.
But NASA wanted a reusable rocket ship to explore Earth orbit and to supply and staff a space station. Nixon gave the go-ahead
:I have decided today that the United States should proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970s into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980s and '90s.
This system will center on a space vehicle that can shuttle repeatedly from Earth to orbit and back. It will revolutionize transportation into near space, by routinizing it. It will take the astronomical costs out of astronautics. In short, it will go a long way toward delivering the rich benefits of practical space utilization and the valuable spinoffs from space efforts into the daily lives of Americans and all people.
NASA director James Fletcher's remarks referred once again to the shuttle's "modest budget" and reduced complexity. The plan was to make 48 flights a year
(.pdf) at about $50 million per launch ($250 million in today's money).
Starting in 1981, the shuttles have made 124 space flights
in 28 years, averaging four or five missions a year. The years immediately following the Challenger
disasters saw no flights. 1985 had a record high nine missions, and 1990 to 1997 averaged eight flights a year.
University of Colorado researcher Roger Pielke Jr.
calculated in early 2005 that the shuttle program to that point had cost $145 billion, or about $1.3 billion per flight. (Based on a 1995 midpoint, that's about $1.9 billion per flight in today's dollars.)
The Apollo program
cost a total $19.4 billion from 1960 to 1973. That averages almost $2.2 billion for each of the nine lunar missions. (Based on a 1967 midpoint, that would be about $13 billion each today.)
So, space shuttle flights have certainly been less expensive than Apollo lunar missions. But even adjusting for inflation and despite their many achievements, shuttle launches cost seven or eight times what was promised.
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