Changing U.S. Space Policy

November 10, 1978

Report Outline
Carter's Plan for the 1980s
Evolution of Space Flight
New Decisions and Quests

Carter's Plan for the 1980s

Renewed Space Interest vs. Tight Budgets

The nation's space program, now reaching out in new directions after its successes of earlier years, is the source of an interesting irony. After years of decline, there appears to be a resurgence of public interest in space. But as the evidence of this increased interest accumulates, the Carter administration has announced a carefully conservative policy regarding government support for space programs through the 1980s. This policy was outlined in a four-page announcement by the White House on Oct. 10, just nine days after the 20th anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The U.S. space program, although extraordinarily successful and once again possessing a glamorous image, has been a big consumer of ever-scarcer government dollars. NASA's appropriation for the current fiscal year, 1979, is almost $4.4 billion, twice that of the government's next largest research and development agency, the National Institutes of Health, and more than four times that of the National Science Foundation. Those who follow space matters closely suggest that the Carter administration may have found itself in the middle of a clash between Star Wars' dreams and Proposition 13 realities. Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, for instance, recently said that it has seen “vocal support [for the space program] from within the administration, but only limited action.”

The renewed interest in space after years of decline shows up in many tangible ways. The motion pictures “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” have been box-office smash hits. According to Variety magazine, the chronicle of commercial entertainment spending, “Star Wars” has amassed box-office receipts of over $220 million to become the highest grossing motion picture of all time. “Close Encounters,” with a $116 million gross, has also been exceptionally profitable. Both pictures have spawned a spate of imitators, and “space westerns” are among the hottest properties in Hollywood. On television, where the science fiction series “Star Trek” failed in the 1960s, the lavish new series “Battle Star Galactica” appears to be a success.

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