NASA's Radically New Partnership with the National Security Agencies
NASA forged an unprecedented and unequal partnership with the defense and intelligence agencies to obtain their critical political support for the Shuttle. Their requirements dictated a larger orbiter and performance specifications greater than what NASA needed. For the first time ever, NASA would routinely and openly fly classified missions, institute a secure command and control system, and withhold mission information from the public. Although NASA would pay the vast majority of the program's costs, the DoD agreed to build a West Coast launch complex, install a secure command and control system, and develop an upper stage. There was considerable opposition to transitioning national security payloads to the unproven Shuttle as its financial and technical problems mounted, but key DoD leaders provided critical political support during the Carter Administration and saved the Shuttle from drastic cuts or cancellation. President Carter directed that the Shuttle become the exclusive launch vehicle for all U.S. government payloads, that this transition occur quickly, and that national security missions receive priority. As the complex and expensive redesign of national security payloads for launch on the Shuttle finally began, the DoD continued to modify its backup expendable launch vehicle (ELV) policy in the uncertain environment.
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