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A Plan To Save The Space Shuttle Program?

March 4, 2010

Keep Shuttle Operational or U.S. Forced to Rely on Russia, China to Reach Space Station

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced legislation on March 3rd to close the gap in U.S. human space flight that will occur if the space shuttle is retired before the next generation of space vehicle is developed. Senator Hutchison’s bill would allow the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to extend the shuttle’s service as work continues on the next generation of American space vehicle. Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives next week by Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Florida) and Bill Posey (R-Florida).

“We must close the gap in U.S. human space flight or face the reality that we will be totally dependent on Russia for access to space until the next generation of space vehicle is developed,” said Senator Hutchison. “If the space shuttle program is terminated, Russia and China will be the only nations in the world with the capability to launch humans into space. This is unacceptable.” Hutchison said the Obama Administration’s budget proposal was “short-sighted and represents the wrong direction for U.S. space policy.”

The Administration proposes to retire the shuttle as scheduled while discontinuing years of work on development of a new launch vehicle and provides no short term solution to deliver critical equipment and components to the International Space Station that are essential to extending the life of the station until 2020.

“Not only are we turning our backs on 40 years of American space superiority, we are giving up vital national security and economic interests to other nations. 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. By maintaining our independence from other nations in reaching space, the U.S. can fully realize the research potential of the space station as a national lab,” Hutchison said.

The Human Space Flight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act of 2009 would:

* Make shuttle retirement dependent on the availability of replacement capabilities for comparable size crew and cargo delivery, whether government-owned or commercial, (assuming a rate of 2 missions a year), or until it is conclusively demonstrated that it is the space shuttle cargo capabilities are not needed to ensure space station viability;

* Require International Space Station (ISS) operations and full utilization through at least 2020, and further establish the ISS National Laboratory operating mechanisms and procedures;

* Provide for the acceleration of a government-owned human space flight capability to as close to 2015 as possible;

* Expand support for Commercial Orbital Space Transportation (COTS) to support ISS — both for cargo and for eventual crew launch capability;

* Reaffirm long-term goal of moving beyond low-Earth orbit whether to the Moon, Mars or alternative destinations;

* Provide for the near-term evaluation of heavy-lift rocket launcher design options, including shuttle-derived options, to enable the expansion beyond low-earth orbit and accelerate the start of vehicle design activity; and

* Authorize top-level funding for all of NASA’s mission activities, but would only address the human space flight policy issues.

Image Caption: The Space Shuttle Discovery approaches the International Space Station for docking. Credit: NASA

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