Sunday, September 07, 2008

Will the shuttle live on?

There has been a lot of discussion lately concerning whether the Space Shuttle will fly on past its planned 2010 retirement date, either for one or two specific missions to add hardware to the ISS or as a stopgap to cover a gap fueled by two problems: the challenge of using Russian hardware for ISS access in the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia and the slippage in Project Constellation's troubled Ares I/Orion combination (managers and contractors deny the program is "troubled," but it's hard to find anyone on the outside who believes it). NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has weighed in with a firm vote in favor of keeping the 2010 date, although he expresses great concern about maintaining access to the ISS given the problem with Russia. Griffian actually complains in the statement (actually a leaked email from August 18) that he was not allowed to develop a rational policy keeping the Shuttle flying until Orion was operational, but given the budget circumstances prevailing now, NASA no longer has much choice. (He has a point: voices in Congress in favor of changing course now and keeping the shuttle a few more years don't seem to be interested in the major budget increase that would require.) After November, it's very unlikely Griffin's opinion will matter, but it's the official word for now.


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