The House next month will conduct the first broad congressional inquiry into the scope and direction of President Carter's space program, Chairman Olin E. Teague (D-Tex.) of the House Science and Technology Committee said last week.
Teague said in a telephone interview he intends to look into both civilian and military space activities, including the antisatellite weaponry that the Pentagon i s developing for fear the Soviets are ahead in this area.
The civilian space program - run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration - has been shrinking since the Apollo manned landings on the moon, while the military's space program has been growing.
"We keep hearing by the grapevine," Teague said, that the Carter administration has ordered the civilian space program to retrench to save money. Teague said he wants to examine the administration's plans to see if this is true.
NASA Administrator Rober A. Frosch and Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, the former Air Force astronaut who commands the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, will be called toward the end of the hearings to testify respectively on the civilian and military space programs, Teague said.
He said the hearings would start next month. No date has been set.
NASA leaders, worried about the agency's diminishing appropriations, commissioned the New York public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller last year to study why the agency was losing appeal both inside and outside the government.
In its report, the firm said NASA had failed to focus its work "in the sense of any coherent image. The picture of NASA that is in focus is Big Budget, Big Spectaculars and, bottom line, a hundred pounds of moon rocks . . ."
James E. Webb, who headed NASA in its heyday during the Apollo program, was asked by The Washingon Post what he thought was needed to rejuvenate the civilian space program.
Stressing that he was not "looking over my shoulder" at his successors and passing judgment, Webb said he thought the big opportunity was "for us to do the work of the world" with space technology.
U.S. satellites could help the world manage its food and water, discover minerals and other resources, Webb said, under an international program that would attract other nations as long as they could see the direct benefits to themselves.
Pentagon leaders have been warning recently that they must step up military space preparations, partly to protect satellites used for communicating and navigating. Defense Secretary Harold Brown, for example, said on Oct. 4 that he found it "troublesome" that the Soviets had apparently perfected a space weapon that could destroy "some" U.S. satellites.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in their military posture statement for fiscal 1978, warned that "the heretofore accepted sanctuary of space may be jeopardized." Discussing the Soviets, the chiefs said, "in terms of space weapon capability, they are ahead and are likely to continue in the lead for the next several years."
NASA's budget for space activities alone, as distinguished from such other work as airplane research, plummeted from $5.17 billion in fiscal 1965 to $3.6 billion in the current fiscal year. The Pentagon's space budget rose from $489.5 million in fiscal 1959 to $2.77 billion this fiscal year.
Carter's civilian space policy has been to encourage NASA to exploit the technology in hand rather than start any new bold programs. he also has said that he hopes the United States and the Soviet Union can agree to keep space off-limits to hostile action, such as the destruction of each other's satellites.
In case such an agreement is not negotiated, or perhaps to give the administration more bargaining power, the Air Force recently awarded a $58.7 million contract to the Vought Corp. of Dallas to develop a flying test model of a satellite killer the size of a tomato can that would collide with an enemy satellite, destroying it on impact.
Teague said the House space committee will analyze during its inquiry the administration's investments in civilian and military space activities.