Jettison the shuttle, NASA is urged


WASHINGTON -- NASA should learn to live without the space shuttle and should scale back other manned projects, a White House committee recommends.

Labeling the shuttle a "weak link" in the nation's space program, the panel of 12 scientists and aerospace executives yesterday called on the space agency to "phase down" the shuttle system in favor of a less complicated launch vehicle that could carry human crews when necessary.

"The civil space program is overly dependent upon the space shuttle for access to space," the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program stated a summary of a report to be released next week.

The panel also recommended that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration drop plans to build a fifth shuttle orbiter. The committee criticized manned projects such as space station Freedom, a high-speed aerospace plane and an expedition to Mars.

The panel instead wants NASA to focus on more down-to-Earth ventures, such as studying the effects of pollution on the environment.

Vice President Dan Quayle, who appointed the committee, said yesterday the report "mandates serious reform efforts . . . and we will make changes."

The Bush administration requested the review by outside experts after several foul-ups earlier this summer, including persistent fuel leaks on two shuttles and a flawed mirror in the $1.5 billion Hubble Space Telescope.

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