Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New US Space Center Boss Shoots for Moon Veteran Astronaut Robert Crippen Confident Program Will Move Ahead despite Budget Cuts. INTERVIEW

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New US Space Center Boss Shoots for Moon Veteran Astronaut Robert Crippen Confident Program Will Move Ahead despite Budget Cuts. INTERVIEW

Article excerpt

WHENEVER a space shuttle blasts off, Robert Crippen starts two separate countdowns. One fast. One slow.

"It takes 8 1/2 minutes from liftoff until you get main engine cutoff. Eight-and-a-half minutes and you're going 17,500 miles per hour.... Wow! And it's over," he says.

"Real time" during a launch runs much more slowly, says the pilot of the maiden shuttle voyage in 1981 and veteran of four spaceflights.

"It takes several hours to get to main engine cutoff, the period when the vehicle is most vulnerable to having something happen to it," says Mr. Crippen.

Appointed this month as director of the Kennedy Space Center, (KSC), Crippen is now in charge of one of the most operationally complex agencies in the federal government, with a $1.49 billion budget and 19,000 employees here.

He also is a major advocate for the space program in Washington, D.C.

Shuttle and shuttle-related matters comprise 80 percent of KSC operations, Crippen said in an interview last week in his spacious office overlooking the flat, armadillo-inhabited landscape of Cape Canaveral.

The following are excerpts from that interview:

The plans for 1992 are for eight {shuttle} launches. Last year and the year before there were only six. And all this with budget cuts of 15 percent?

We have taken a challenge to reduce the shuttle budget 3 percent a year for five years. This {fiscal 1992} is the first year that 3 percent comes out. So that cumulatively, over a period of time, it comes out to 15 percent.

Three percent a year seems very manageable.

We're trying to do this in a very orderly fashion. People need to understand this. We're trying to take the cuts in a careful, judicious manner.... Safety will not be compromised. I am very comfortable with the hardware.

The American people's imagination seems to have been more attentive in previous times to what NASA and the KSC were all about. Currently, it's not at that level. Why do you think this is so?

I'm not sure we'll ever get it up to the level {it was} when we went to the moon for the first time. It's a little bit like, when I grew up there wasn't a space program, and all of a sudden people were going into space. …

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