An Exciting Vision of Our Next Fifty Years In Space

The Report of the National Commission on Space

Bantam Books, May 1986
Excerpts taken from the following section:
Civilian Goals for 21st-Century America
Space Enterprise
Other Potential Industries
Space Businesses with Markets in Space
pp 84

“In addition to these natural resources, there is a potentially valuable artificial space resource that is now going to waste: the shuttle’s external tanks. At present, with each successful flight of a shuttle, an empty tank with mass greater than the full payload of the shuttle itself is brought to 99 percent of orbital speed and then discarded to burn up in the atmosphere. The shuttle fleet’s flight schedule suggests that over a 10-year period about 10,000 tons of that tankage will be brought almost to orbit and then discarded. At standard shuttle rates, it would cost about $35 billion to lift that mass to orbit. There are reasonable arguments, involving potential hazards and the costs of maintaining tanks in orbit over time, against saving this resource, but we feel that so great a resource cannot be ignored, and propose that a new look be taken. We cannot set limits on what uses could be made of shuttle tanks in orbit; ingenuity and the profit motive might produce useful ideas. One obvious use is as shielding against radiation; another possibility is mass for tether anchoring. We therefore recommend that:
The potential value, risks, and costs of stockpiling shuttle external tanks in orbit be reviewed again in light of increased orbital activities to determine whether preserving a large tonnage of fabricated aluminum, steel, and other materials is desirable in the next 10 to 15 years.”
Dr. Luis W. Alvarez; Mr. Neil A. Armstrong; Dr. Paul J. Coleman; Dr. George B. Field; LtGen William H. Fitch, USMC (Ret.); Dr. Charles M. Hertzfield; Dr. Jack L. Kerrebrock; Amb. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick; Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill; Dr. Thomas O. Paine; Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, USAF (Ret.); Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan; Dr. David C. Webb; Dr. Laurel L. Wilkening; and BGen Charles E. Yeager, USAF (Ret.).

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