Eric Berger has published an account in Ars Technica about how President Jimmy Carter saved the Space shuttle program. The article is well worth reading for its detail. In essence, around 1978 the space shuttle program had undergone a crisis with technical challenges surrounding its heat-resistant tiles and its reusable rocket engines and cost overruns. President Carter was not all that enthused about human space flight, to begin with, adhering to the since discredited notion that robotic space probes were adequate for exploring the universe.

His vice president, Walter Mondale, was a vehement foe of human space flight programs, maintaining that money spent on them were better used for social programs.

No one was more surprised and pleased than the folks at NASA when the Carter White House asked for the money needed to get the shuttle program back on track. It seems that Carter had boasted to the Soviets that the shuttle would be able to deploy satellites that would verify arms control treaties during negotiations for SALT II. He could hardly cancel the shuttle program after doing that.

Much of subsequent space history surrounds the decision by the most unlikely president to save the shuttle. Also, when one considers what the reaction to such a decision would have been, political history would have changed had Carter canceled the shuttle.

In 1980, Carter found himself running against Ronald Reagan, who subsequently proved to be as supportive of space exploration as his predecessor had opposed it.

One can imagine that had Carter canceled the shuttle, Reagan would have excoriated his opponent for ceding space leadership to the Soviets. The economic consequences of what would have been the end of the last human space flight program in certain key states such as Texas and California would have been profound as well.

Reagan, in this scenario, would have still won and likelier by a bigger margin than he did in real life.

He would have probably included in his agenda a promise to restart the space shuttle program. He might have also felt free to shape his own space policy earlier than he did in real life when he announced the space station program in 1984. The consequences to subsequent space history would have been profound indeed.

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