WASHINGTON -- Urging Americans to follow their dreams to distant stars, President Reagan Wednesday night directed NASA to build a continuously manned base in orbit within a decade to begin developing the space frontier.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects the modular space station will cost at least $8 billion and hopes to have it in operation by 1992 -- the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the New World.
Such a space station, which is subject to congressional approval, would mark the first major new American space initiative since President Nixon signaled the start of the $10 billion space shuttle development program in 1972.
The shuttle, which will make its 10th flight next week, is the key to the space station. The reusable winged rocket plane will be able to ferry men, women, equipment and supplies to the station on a regular basis.
Administration officials said Reagan will ask Congress next week to appropriate $150 million in fiscal 1985 to get the space station program under way. It has been estimated annual funding would grow to $1 billion later this decade.
In a declaration reminiscent of President Kennedy's 1961 man-on-the-moon challenge, Reagan told Congress in his State of the Union message the space station would enable the United States to build on its pioneer spirit and 'develop our next frontier.'
'We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic and scientific gain,' the president said in his prepared address.
'Tonight I am directing NASA to develop a permanent, manned space station, and to do it within a decade.'
NASA Administrator James Beggs said the president's proposal 'is a call to action that the American people will applaud.'
'People everywhere all share the goal of more jobs and better health and these are precisely the sort of benefits that will come with a permanent manned facility to work in the promising environment of outer space,' Beggs said.
Reagan also said he is inviting other friendly countries to participate in the space station program 'so we can strengthen peace, build prosperity and expand freedom for all who share our goals.' The European Space Agency, Japan and Canada have expressed interest in such a project.
The White House said the space station would be a multipurpose assembly to serve as a national research laboratory for both government and industry.
It would be able to assemble and repair satellites and other payloads, serve as a staging base for flights to the moon and beyond and 'would serve as a place where new technologies and new industries would be created.'
Preliminary NASA planning envisioned rotating crews of six to eight men or women to keep the station continuously occupied. Congress' Office of Technology Assessment said in December the Soviet Union also is working toward that goal with its Salyut space station program.
The president emphasized the 'enormous potential for commerce' that space represents. The White House cited the potential for advances in science, communications and 'the production of metals and life-saving medicines which can be manufactured only in space.'
Reagan also said he planned to take a number of steps to ease regulatory constraints and promote private investment in space.