The National Aeronautics and Space Administration asked congress yesterday to allow it to use $100 million in space shuttle production money to pay for cost increases and delays in developing the first two of the returnable shuttles.
NASA Administrator Robert A. Frosch told a Senate appropriations subcommittee headed by Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) that the fund shift is needed to allow it to make the first manned orbital flight of the shuttle as scheduled in the spring of 1979.
Frosch said development of the shuttle's main engine, the innards of the aft part of its fuselage and its computer controls were running behind schedule.
While not hostile to the request, Proxmire and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked why Frosch did not ask for a supplemental appropriation to cover the delays because a shift in funds could trigger future delays of as much as six months in the production of the last three shuttle craft.
"We're not allowed to anticipate what Congress will do," Frosch replied. "As far as I know, NASA has asked Congress twice for supplemental budget increases in the past and both times had to wait until the next fiscal year for approval. We don't have that kind of time."
Of the $100 million they were asking to shift, Frosch and Associate Administrator John F. Yardley said $65 million would be used to speed up development schedules that had fallen behind. The other $35 million would be put into a reserve for contingencies in spacecraft development.
"Those reserves used to be between $100 and $150 million," Frosch said. "They're down near zero right now."
Yardley said the rocket engine that will drive the 150,000-pound shuttle into orbit is five months behind schedule. The engine has been tested for about 13,000 seconds, which is 3,000 seconds short of current goals. Yardley said the space agency wants to test the engine for 38,000 seconds before committing it to manned space flight.
Frosch was asked if he thinks the space agency will meet its goal of getting the first shuttle into orbit by the spring of 1979.
"I would not like to say it will be early spring," Frosch replied, "but we're still planning for spring."