An e-mail obtained by The Orlando Sentinel reveals NASA is looking into the plausibility of postponing the retirement of its current fleet of three space shuttles until 2015, when the Orion is scheduled to be completed.
"We want to focus on helping bridge the gap of U.S. vehicles traveling to the ISS as efficiently as possible," Manager of manifest and schedules of Johnson Space Center John Coggeshall said in the e-mail.
In 2004, President Bush urged NASA to try and complete the ISS and retire the shuttle fleet by 2010, with the next aim to create a new shuttle and return to the moon by 2020.
NASA is preparing for Congress and the new President of the United States to discuss how viable it would be to extend the current generation of space shuttles rotation an additional five years. Assuming NASA retires the shuttles in 2010 as planned, the U.S. space agency will be forced to rely on the Russian space agency to get astronauts and supplies to the ISS.
In addition to relying on Russia, thousands of jobs and billions of dollars will be lost in Florida's Space Coast, Houston and similar locations where shuttle development and rocket launches take place.
But NASA Administrator Michael Griffin and other high-ranking space officials are concerned that both the economic and political issues outweigh the necessity of the fleet's retirement. Griffin expects the study to be finished by the end of September.
Both presidential candidates have discussed NASA funding and the problems it could face in the future if the shuttle is retired and Orion isn't done as planned. Democratic nominee Barack Obama (D, IL) pledged monetary support for the Constellation program, along with $2 billion for additional launches past the 2010 deadline. Republican candidate John McCain (R, AZ) was one of a handful of senators who officially asked for the shuttle retirement to be delayed at least one year, and he also offered more monetary support for the U.S. space agency.
quote: Compare that with the Direct plan which uses unmodified boosters, and modified External Tanks for both crew and cargo variants. Elegant, simple, safe, and efficient.
quote: First off - there is nothing safe about strapping yourself to a million pounds of explosives and rocketing into space,
quote: So in 40 years and hundreds more space flights than Russia.
quote: In the 27 years that the original fleet of 5 shuttles has been in service, we've lost two shuttles.
quote: If they extend the shuttle program with billions in aid, these tiles will all be completely replaced and possibly redesigned to fix the shuttles Achilles heel.
quote: Only the Shuttle was able to deploy the Columbus laboratory module that no other ship could carry.
quote: The facts and numbers speak for itself. The Shuttle is less reliable and more expensive. It does not make sense to support it.