Scheduled to be retired in 2010, the shuttle fleet could operate to 2011

Even though the current generation of space shuttles faces retirement by NASA next year, there is still a remote possibility a one-year reprieve will be granted before the shuttle fleet is finally retired.

The U.S. House and Senate agreed on a NASA budget resolution eliminating the set 2010 shuttle retirement date, as there is growing concern over the loss of jobs and five-year gap before the next-generation Orion is ready to be launched.

The U.S. space agency is scrambling to finish construction on the ISS, though it's unsure if that goal will be accomplished.

"This budget is a significant step towards maintaining safety, minimizing the spaceflight gap, and preserving the highly skilled workforce at Kennedy Space Center and throughout Florida," according to U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas.  "Kennedy Space Center is an economic engine for our community and I will not stand idly by while these jobs are at risk."

Legislators are willing to give up to $2.5 billion towards extending the mission of space shuttles into 2011, though space experts have been concerned about possible safety issues with launching the shuttles several more times.  There are nine manned missions left, including eight more missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and one final mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

In 2004, the Bush administration ordered NASA to finish construction of the International Space Station (ISS) and officially retire the shuttle by September 30, 2010.  Since then, however, there has been a lot of confusion and talk about shuttle retirement, and the confusion will likely occur into 2010.

Some politicians expressed concern over the estimated five-year gap between the shuttle retirement and Orion's completion, in which NASA will have to rely on the Russian Space agency to ferry astronauts and supplies to the ISS.

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