|Quoting Thorny (Reply 7):|
"Thanks for the honesty, but you've just spent $3 Billion designing a Shuttle and rebuilding launch facilities for it. so there is no way I can go back to my district and just say, 'oops, we're going to start again, sorry about wasting your 3 billion taxpayer dollars', either make this thing work or we'll pull the plug and spend the money on DoD..."
If they did abandon manned space flight it might not have been a bad thing. The DoD soon became unpopular, so I doubt the money would remain there for long. If it was put into planetary probes we would have seen some truly spectacular achievements by now. Put it in propulsion technology other than traditional rockets and we would have the makings of a real(not publicity - stunt driven) manned space program when we got back to it. Sure, we would have to relearn a few things. But by the time we got back to it the more expensive knowledge we learned in the 60's would be obsolete anyhow. The stuff that would not still be usefull(life support, spacesuits, etc.) we could learn from archives or by simply redoing it - at relatively low cost. Even if congress just spent it on pork projects or lowered taxes, my guess is it would end up doing more for us than the space shuttle did.
Congress has been willing to tolerate all kinds of billion dollar failures from NASA in the past, such as the X-33/Venturestar., NASP, etc. I doubt they would kill all manned spaceflight just after the Apollo achievements even if Donald Duck was the NASA administrator and each of the three stooges ran one of the centers. Remember, the Russians still threatened to upstage us back then. If the shuttle shared the same fate as Venturestar, my guess is they would have NASA build a Saturn Mark II
capsule and a more economical booster to match. Perhaps the booster would incorporate some reusabily, like Allen's StarBooster. After the initial costs, that would provide a good placeholder program. Just send the capsules to orbit and back, perhaps with a seperatly launched Salyut-style lab. Later on, if you want a real program, you could add an HLLV launched space station. Or a Mir style station for less money. Use any money saved on unmanned exploration and propulsion research+testing.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20.....