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Clinton backs scaled-down space station.

President Clinton last week endorsed a scaled-down, simplified version of Space Station Freedom. The proposed station will combine two of the cost-cutting alternative designs that NASA unveiled on June 8 after a three-month effort (SN: 6/19/93, p.389).

The President ruled out a third option, whose design differed most radically from the original Freedom.

In the next 90 days, NASA and its foreign partners in the space station program will determine the orbiting laboratory's final configuration. They will also decide whether NASA should park the station in a higher-inclination, "international" orbit to make it more accessible to other spacefaring nations, most notably Russia, according to administration officials.

At the same time, NASA will redesign itself: Clinton has directed the agency to implement internal cost-cutting measures, including a 30 percent reduction in the space station workforce. These cuts will affect NASA employees as well as private contractors involved in the space station program.

When completely assembled -- sometime around the turn of the century--the redesigned space station will have cost $16 billion, administration officials said. The original design of Space Station Freedom would have cost $25.6 billion. In a June 17 announcement, the President cited the stations potential contribution to the continued economic prosperity and scientific prowess of the United States. "I strongly believe that NASA and the space program represent important investments in that future," Clinton said. He also noted the space stations potential for promoting international cooperation.

The President's preferred design for the station is most like NASA's option A, which maintains Freedom's modular configuration: pressurized chambers attached to a central backbone with solar panels mounted at either end. To reduce costs, NASA engineers gave option A simpler electrical and computer systems, shortened its backbone, and made cost-saving changes to the modules in which the stations four-person crew will work and live for extended periods.

The redesigned station will also incorporate features of option B - a more complex, Freedom-derived version of the space station - to enhance the laboratory's capabilities.

Option A differs from the original Freedom blueprint largely in the amount of electrical power and shelf space it can supply for experiments and equipment. For example, option A offers an average of 31 kilowatts of power per orbit, compared to Freedom's 34, and has seven fewer "racks" for instruments and experiments. Despite these differences, an independent panel advising the President on space station options declared option A "fully capable" of meeting the basic goals of the space station program. The advisory group, chaired by Charles M. Vest, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examined the advantages and disadvantages of the space-station design options.

Although administration officials refuse to specify which elements of option B will make it into the new design, the Freedom-derived "alpha joints" are likely candidates for Clinton's hybrid space station. The alpha joints are movable solar-panel mounts that would ensure an unwavering supply o! electricity regardless of the laboratory's orientation toward the sun, which changes throughout the year.

Without the joints, NASA would have to shift the stations position periodically with onboard thrusters to maintain power levels. But these shifts would apply forces to the station, possibly compromising experiments that require a "microgravity" environment, says Daniel E. Hastings, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. Hastings and other members of NASA's Space Station Advisory Committee worked closely with the agency during the three-month redesign effort.
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Title Annotation:Space Station Freedom
Author:Pendick, Daniel
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 26, 1993
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