NASA thinks about maybe extending the shuttle an additional five years

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.

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