- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

NASA is likely to emerge stronger after Saturday's explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia, if history is a guide.
In the hours after the loss of the shuttle and the seven astronauts on board, the big questions, aside from what caused the accident, centered on the future of the space program.
President Bush and administrators for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said human space travel will continue and that any suspension of service will last only as long as the investigation.
"We're going to find out what happened here, we're going to correct it and get back to flight," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said yesterday.
Analysts of U.S. space policy said the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger 17 years ago will provide some clues as to how the program will move forward.
In fact, the shuttle program could rebound more quickly. After Challenger, the shuttle program was suspended for 32 months, in part because debris from the shuttle fell into the ocean, making an investigation more difficult. Also, the Challenger explosion was blamed on both a mechanical flaw and on problems within NASA.
The Challenger explosion, which killed seven astronauts one minute after liftoff, led to major safety changes and a significant boost of funding for NASA, said John Logsdon, head of the space policy institute at George Washington University.
"I think NASA became a healthier program," he said. "After Challenger, we revalidated what we were doing."
NASA's budget nearly doubled from 1986 to 1992, from $7.7 billion to $14.3 billion.
"The Bush administration was pretty pro-space," Mr Logsdon said of the first President Bush.
In fact, the pro-space attitude of that administration led Mr. O'Keefe to push openly for Republican congressional candidates in the November elections.
It is likely the shuttle program will get back on track faster this time than it did after the 1986 Challenger crash because the shuttle has a more important role now, analysts said. The International Space Station cannot be serviced without shuttle support.
"The space station and its needs create a certain pressure to fly again, certainly sooner than we did after Challenger," Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican, told Reuters news agency. Mr. Weldon's district includes much of Florida's space community.
Contractors for NASA declined to comment on the financial effects of the disaster, but analysts tracking space and defense stocks said the larger firms receiving the bulk of NASA money are diverse enough to be affected only nominally.
In recent years, Boeing Co., Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and their subsidiaries have received more than 40 percent of NASA procurement money annually.
The two companies are part of an equal partnership with an eight-year, $9.8 billion contract to manage the shuttle program.
Lockheed Martin had $7.3 billion in space systems sales in 2002, about 28 percent of its sales for the year.
Boeing had revenues of $11 billion from its space and communications sector, about 20 percent of the company's $54 billion in revenue. For both companies, a significant amount of the money devoted to space systems has gone toward non-shuttle programs, such as missile defense.
The companies do not publish breakdowns of revenue outlining NASA and non-NASA programs.
Since NASA's budget decreased by about 40 percent in the past decade, analysts said, many companies, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing, have shifted their focus from space systems and toward information technology and defense.
Meanwhile, Boeing, Northrop Grumman Corp. and Orbital Sciences Corp. may have to expedite designs for a shuttle replacement. NASA awarded the two companies contracts valued at $26 million to design the new shuttle.
Fifteen concepts are being studied, including a design for a shuttle that takes off like a plane and one with boosters that fly back to Earth on their own.
It is not clear how investors will react today. After the Challenger disaster in 1986, shares of most NASA contractors, including Martin Marietta Corp., Lockheed and TRW Inc., fell 1 percent to 5 percent but recovered quickly.

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