Space plan lift-off calms Europeans

Click to follow
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton yesterday opted for a slimmed down version of the space station, calming fears in Europe over the future of the project and reassuring Congress on its cost.

The new version combines aspects of two of three options put before the President last week, both of which resemble the original design on which Nasa has already spent dollars 9bn ( pounds 6bn). The latest proposal is expected to cost less than one-third of the original scheme, at around dollars 11bn over five years.

The budget is less than the dollars 13bn to dollars 14bn price tag Nasa has placed on such a scaled-down version, and last night it was not clear how Mr Clinton expected Nasa to work with this shortfall. But in his statement, the President said he was instructing Nasa to make personnel reductions and big management changes to 'cut costs, reduce bureaucracy and improve efficiency'.

'We are going to redesign Nasa as we redesign the space station,' he said. 'At a time when our long-term economic strength depends on our technological leadership and our ability to reduce the deficit, we must invest in technology . . . wisely.'

The President flatly rejected the third 'tin can' option, favoured by Nasa's innovative administrator, Daniel Goldin. This appeared to be the least expensive option, but was also the most radical departure from the original plan.

This option raised anxieties in Congress since it would have meant scaling back contracts with aerospace agencies placed in more than 37 states and representing many tens of thousands of jobs.

The President's choice, yet to be finalised, will be a modular design that will require several shuttle launches. Under this plan the station would be ready for occupancy by astronauts in the year 2001.

Jean-Marie Luton, director general of the European Space Agency, yesterday wrote to John Gibbons, Mr Clinton's scientific advisor, saying the agency would 'continue to co-operate with Nasa in a positive spirit'. US obfuscation over the project has angered its international collaborators.

Yesterday, Mr Luton reaffirmed ESA's interest in collaboration with Russia on which it has 'started discussions', and expressed support for Russian involvement in the space station. The White House said details of the project would be delivered to Congress within a few days. Nasa would be instructed to work on the redesign with its partners during the next 90 days.