Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Commercial' Year in Space Fails to Fire Business Enthusiasm

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Commercial' Year in Space Fails to Fire Business Enthusiasm

Article excerpt

SPACE shuttle Endeavour's mission will symbolize what the National Aeronautics and Space Administration calls "the year of commercial space."

When NASA acting associate administrator Gregory Reck said that "1993 will stand as ... a benchmark for the development of the space frontier," he was talking about commercial use of the weightless environment of orbital flight. He also was talking about studying biological and physical processes, developing new materials, and eventually manufacturing materials under conditions unavailable on Earth.

Endeavour's seven- to eight-day mission involves two facilities designed for such work. Three days after launch - delayed from June 3 until mid-June because of a faulty pump - the crew will recover the European Retrievable Carrier (Eureca) satellite. This unmanned automated laboratory is ready to bring its experiments home to their sponsors after 10 months in orbit. Crew members will also work in the new commercially supplied Spacehab manned laboratory that fits into Endeavour's cargo bay.

Both Eureca and Spacehab are designed to carry a variety of experiments for commercial as well as government sponsors. Both also illustrate the major problem in developing this field: the reluctance of companies to participate. Most of the current experiments have some form of government support.

Eureca provides a long-duration weightless environment that also is free of the jiggles of astronaut activity. The European Space Agency (ESA) touted its commercial potential when the shuttle Atlantis placed it in orbit Aug. 2, 1992. Now ESA is rethinking its entire manned-flight-related program as it awaits the space-station redesign. In the absence of strong commercial interest, it has made no commitment to fly Eureca again. This first Eureca mission cost $428 million, including $213 million for the satellite. A second mission would cost only $150 million.

SPACEHAB is a different type of venture. The laboratory module's 50 experiment lockers double the shuttle's mid-deck locker capacity. …

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