Apr 07 2010

Hanging on to the Shuttle?

Category: national security,Obama,Russia,science,shuttle,spaceharmonicminer @ 8:03 am

Could moon rocket demise bring space shuttle reprieve?

The demise of NASA’s Constellation moon rockets is bringing faint hopes of a reprieve for the space shuttle.

NASA’s decades-old shuttle fleet has been headed for retirement since 2004, and only four more flights are scheduled. Now the White House’s plan to scrap the Constellation programme, a pair of rockets capable of taking astronauts back to the moon, has prompted renewed efforts to keep the shuttles running until new vehicles can replace them.

Two bills have been introduced in the US Congress to keep the shuttle flying while NASA works to develop replacements. The hope is that a modest extension, involving just a couple flights a year, could help retain jobs and maintain access to the International Space Station without relying on foreign launchers.

“If the space shuttle programme is terminated, Russia and China will be the only nations in the world with the capability to launch humans into space,” says Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who introduced the first of the two bills this month. “This is unacceptable.”

An extension to shuttle flights may struggle to win approval. Safety has been a concern, but a bigger hurdle may be money. The cost of a modest programme could exceed $2 billion per year, according to agency officials. “Where that money comes from is the big question,” shuttle programme manager John Shannon told reporters last week.

They seem to be able to find plenty of money in Washington for things that they think actually matter.  Does this matter?  Only if you think it’s fine for the USA to be dependent on Russia to get people into and out of orbit.

Obama obviously does.  Maybe he, too, has looked into Putin’s eyes and seen a man he can work with.

Or maybe Obama just doesn’t think it matters.