Shuttle flights would continue under new proposal
WASHINGTON — The space shuttle era could get a new lease on life under a bill filed today by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
The measure would delay the shuttle’s planned retirement in 2010 until NASA is confident that a replacement spacecraft is ready or that the shuttle and its massive payload bay is no longer needed to keep the International Space Station afloat through 2020.
The 37-page bill also authorizes an additional $1.3 billion in NASA spending next year above President Barack Obama’s request of $19 billion. The extra money would help prepare NASA for as many as two additional shuttle flights per year after 2010, as well as fund new spacecraft development.
“This must not be an ‘either or’ proposition where we are forced to choose between continuing to fly the shuttle to service the station and maintain our independence in reaching space, or investing in the next generation of space vehicle. We can and must do both,” Hutchison said in a statement.
Last month, Obama moved to cancel NASA’s Constellation moon rocket program in favor of an approach that would rely on commercial rocket companies to ferry cargo and crew to the space station after the shuttle’s final four missions.
Constellation aimed to send astronauts to the station by 2015 and return astronauts to the moon by 2020 aboard new Ares rockets and an Orion capsule, but financial and technical problems made those goals impossible.
The White House has said it hopes to have crewed, commercial launches to the station as early as 2016.
The Obama plan has gotten a chilly reception in Congress and the Hutchison measure emphasizes the need for NASA to have a government-run system that could lift astronauts into space. The new bill also calls for the “continuation or modification” of programs initiated under the Constellation program.
“While commercial transportation systems may contribute valuable services, it is in the United States’ national interest to maintain a government operated space transportation system for crew and cargo delivery to low-Earth orbit and beyond,” it notes.
The bill faces an uncertain fate in Congress.