Space shuttle may fly until 2011
Extension to avoid 'bitter pill' of paying Russians
The US House of Representatives and Senate have agreed a further $2.5bn to keep the space shuttle in service until 2011 - "if such an extension is necessary to complete currently planned missions to the International Space Station", as the Wall Street Journal puts it.
The final planned shuttle launch is Endeavour's mission STS-133 to the ISS, slated for 31 May next year. Thereafter, the US will have to rely on Russian launches pending the development of new homegrown vehicles as part of the Constellation programme - a touchy political subject.
Last September, then presidential candidate Barack Obama said the US must stump extra cash for the space shuttle, or swallow the "bitter pill" of paying the Russians for space transportation services.
Obama insisted this money should not be pilfered from other NASA programmes, and stated: "Any effort to extend the shuttle program must receive adequate funding, ensuring that progress on developing new vehicles is not further delayed."
Well, the House and Senate on Wednesday passed a "nonbinding $3.4 trillion budget blueprint" US budget, including the provision for further shuttle flights. Leading the campaign to reprieve the venerable space vehicle was Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the "Democratic chairman of a science subcommittee with authority over NASA programs".
Nelson argued that the money would "avoid undue reliance on Russian launches" and protect jobs attached to the shuttle program.
The budget provision was not requested either by the White House or NASA, and some agency officials have expressed concern that "funnelling extra money to the shuttles may sap momentum of work on their replacements".
It remains to be seen if the US will eventually go with the shuttle or the Russians, since the cash injection is "still subject to future House and Senate appropriations bills", the Wall Street Journal notes. ®
It will be some time before NASA has alternatives to Russian launches to the ISS. The Constellation programme is currently running behind schedule, and the first test launch of the manned Orion capsule - designed to replace the shuttle - was last year knocked back until 2014.
In December, NASA signed commercial ISS cargo-lift deals with Elon Musk's SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation of Virginia, both of which hoped to be able to demonstrate their capabilities by 2010 - the former by dispatching a reusable Dragon payload capsule to the ISS and the latter with a maiden flight of its Taurus II rocket (pdf factsheet here).
The deal was, however, stalled back in January by protests from losing bidders for the contract. There are more details here.
Everytime I see newsof NASA the more depressed I get :(
2.5bln to keep shuttle going, 65 million to BUY a Soyuz
the only real objection to using the Russia spacecraft is cold war fears (ie, complete BS in today's real world). Russia actually offered to SELL us a complete Soyuz, including 2 cosmonots to teach NASA how to operate it, and all the launch geat, transports, towers and more...
Launching a soyuz costs less than $200 million. Maintaining the space shuttle costs 2.5-3 Billion PER YEAR!
Our replacement for the shuttle will cost a grand total of 3 Billion over 2 YEARS, not one, and can be ready for launch in 2013 with that money. (it would be ready by March 2015 without that 3 billion, that's just what it costs to speed up the process). That craft will cost significantly less than a Soyuz for each launch.
We could BUY a WHOLE NEW Soyuz and launch it OURSELVES, without any russian involvement, and THROW IT AWAY after each launch, save the 3 billion extra for the new rockets and plan on the 2015 date already accepted by NASA and Congress, and we'd save nearly 10 BILLION over 5 years vs trying to keep the space shuttle running even HALF the time until 2013...
This is old school mistrust from the cold war taking billions out of your tax paying pockets. We have NO FEAR of Russia today (they're MANY times more dependent on us thatn we are of their space shuttle.
The ONLY think keeping us from buying and operating out OWN soyuz rockets is a STUPID law banning the purchase of spacecraft from Russia, China, and a few other countries... Instead of passing a law to spend 5.5 billion over the next 2 years, they should have simply repealed the older law and SAVED us that money.
It should be criminal for our congressmen to be so fucking retarted, as it should equally be a crime for allowing uninformed voters to keep them in office. Can I get a term limit over here???
First Ares test launch due this year
Whilst the Orion capsule's not scheduled for flight for four or five years, the Ares rocket it'll fly on is scheduled for it's first test launch later this year:
That's probably good, especially given the rumours of 14G pogo oscillations which would tend to pull fleshy astronauts to bits in an unpleasant manner. This isn't the space race any more, there's no desperately urgent strategic driver to avoid reliance on Soyuz except the desire to save face.
I'd be really, really surprised if we get any STS launches after the nine scheduled remaining flights.
"Stop" because that's what STS desperately needs!