NASA claims that the LFST has outlived its useful life. This is not the case! In 1995, NASA shut down the LFST. In 1997, Dr. Jim Cross approached NASA to allow Old Dominion University to use the tunnel for hands-on experience for its aerospace engineering students. Dr. Cross and ODU put together a business plan that has been so successful that the LFST has basically paid for the Aerospace Engineering program at ODU. On average, the tunnel costs ODU approximately $400,000 a year to operate but the profit they earned from tests completed at the tunnel for commercial and governmental clients has been about $600,000 per year (except for years when amount was less due to storms like Hurricane Isabel.)
Water is a problem at the LFST but this could be easily solved. Remember, this tunnel was built on a flood plain, has been in existence for 78 years, and is still operational! In 1999, NASA solicited quotes for the demolition of the LFST and because of the asbestos panels on the outside of the facility the bids ranged from $25 million to $41 million. NASA asked for bids earlier this year and has not disclosed what those bid amounts were, but they rejected all of them. They are now soliciting new bids for the demolition. NASA is telling the public that the demolition costs for the LFST will only cost an estimated $4 million. There is no way the costs would be so low, even with newer EPA rules. The taxpayers are going to pay through the nose to destroy an irreplaceable and working testing laboratory. We would be far better off to invest in protecting the LFST and to allow the learning to continue at ODU!
Everyone is complaining about the lack of aerospace engineers in this country. The United States only educates about 75,000 engineers a year-compare this to China and India who educate somewhere between 750,000 to 1,000,000 engineers a year. Closing the LFST is now putting the ODU Aerospace Engineering Department at great risk for closure also. The forward-thinking professors at ODU are trying to do everything possible to help our nation find ways to meet its goal of energy independence with testing and research they have done at the tunnel. You would think that NASA would want to be in the forefront of this new era, instead they are insisting on the tunnel’s closure.
The Space Act Agreement that NASA entered into with ODU for the use of the LFST has proven to be one of NASA’s greatest achievements. The LFST building does need some repairs but it is not dilapidated; it still works and in this case, the asbestos might be advantageous as it will last forever. Keeping the LFST operational would only be a fraction of the cost to demolish it. The LFST’s demolition is bad for education, bad for Virginia, and most importantly, bad for this nation!