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Press Release
Media Contact: 800-787-7223 or press@space-frontier.org
Space Shuttle Mission to International Space Station Demonstrates Missed Opportunities

external tank after jettison
External tank after jettison. Photo courtesy NASA.
Los Angeles, CA, September 8, 2000 – As the Space Shuttle lifts off to on a mission to activate the long-awaited International Space Station (ISS), the Space Frontier Foundation today calls for a re-examination of the idea of making space stations out of the External Tanks that are thrown away during Shuttle missions.

"As the Shuttle ascends to orbit today to work on a space station built to hold four or so people, it will throw away the equivalent of a small office building," said Foundation President Rick Tumlinson. "This will be the 99th of these giant structures to be wasted. Ironically, instead of there just being Mir and the infant ISS in space, there could have been 99 active space platforms by now. And it could have been done through recycling."

The 10-story tall Space Shuttle External Tanks (ETs) are currently flown to over 95% of orbital velocity and then deliberately re-entered to burn up in the atmosphere, as NASA has no plan for their use. However, the concept of taking the ETs all the way into orbit and using them in space has been around since the mid 1970s. Interest in the scientific and technical community grew to the point where the National Commission on Space in 1986, Congress in 1987 and 1988, and President Reagan in 1988 directed NASA to make the ETs available to entrepreneurs in the late 1980s. NASA signed a Memoranda of Understanding in 1987, 1989, 1992 to provide ETs to the External Tanks Corporation (ETCO) of Boulder CO and Global Outpost Inc. of Las Cruces, NM.

"An ET-based platform was even proposed as a low-cost alternative to the current ISS in 1993," said Foundation ET Applications Project Manager Alex Gimarc, author of one of the seminal studies on the subject for the Space Studies Institute (SSI). "The ET offers unique opportunities for orbital applications, and after a few years of relative quiet, the concept is back as a low cost way to fly large commercial platforms in space. After all, isn't the goal of NASA to encourage the use of space beyond its own airlocks?"

Further information on the use of ETs in orbit, including congressional reports, can be found at the Foundation's Web site at http://www.space-frontier.org/Projects/ET/. The potential use of ETs and other innovative space concepts will be discussed at the Space Frontier Foundation's 9th annual conference being held October 19-22, 2000, at the Manhattan Beach Marriott, located near Los Angeles International Airport, CA. For more information on the conference, see http://www.space-frontier.org/Events/SFC9/ or call 1-800-787-7223.

Note to Editors: Media covering the event are welcome to attend the conference free of charge. To request a press badge, please call our toll-free number (1-800-787-7223) or send an e-mail to press@space-frontier.org.


The Space Frontier Foundation is an organization of people dedicated to opening the Space Frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible. Our goals include protecting the Earth's fragile biosphere and creating a freer and more prosperous life for each generation by using the unlimited energy and material resources of space. Our purpose is to unleash the power of free enterprise and lead a united humanity permanently into the Solar System.

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Our definition of a "frontier enabling" technology or policy is one which has as its effect the acceleration of the creation of low cost access to the space frontier for private citizens and companies, enables or accelerates our use of space resources, and/or accelerates the rate at which wealth can be generated in space. In other words, is the project or policy going to provide a return on the national investment, if we define "return" to be the economically sustainable human habitation of space?

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