Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shuttle Program Shutdown To Resume May 1

Blogger Note: Updated at 12:34 p.m. with comments from U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas.

NASA intends to resume an orderly shutdown of the shuttle program on May 1, a move aimed at carrying out national space policy while safely flying nine more missions between now and the end of next year.

The shuttle program shutdown will restart a day after the expiration of a congressional order to hold up the phase-out.

"The plan all along has been that we would follow the course that already had been laid out and resume a slow and methodical phase down of the shuttle program," said Mike Curie, a spokesman at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

"We have to do this to meet the budget allocations we have been given for this year and next year," Curie said.

The action is required "in order to be sure we have the money needed to fly the remaining nine missions safely," he added.

In recent weeks, several congressional legislators with ties to NASA's human space flight program have proposed extending the shuttle program beyond 2010, but it's highly unlikely action will be taken before April 30.

NASA reportedly has spent about $90 million to keep the shuttle extension option open. But agency managers now intend to proceed with an orderly phase down of the program so the remaining missions can be safely completed.

"You have heard me say that 'hope is not an effective management tool' on many occasions," NASA Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon told colleagues recently in a widely distributed e-mail.

"It is my position that we cannot continue to spend money to retain the capability to fly additional space shuttle missions, hoping that someone will recognize the national assets we are giving up," he wrote.

"We have to take our destiny in our own hands and manage within the limited budget we have been given and ensure that we will fly the full manifest and leave the International Space Station in the best configuration possible."

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach and a member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, said she still is fighting to eliminate the "hard deadline" for shuttle retirement.

"The need has never been more urgent to increase funding for our human spaceflight program, which is why I have made a request to the Appropriations Committee to eliminate the hard deadline for Shuttle retirement and provide an additional $2 billion for NASA so they have the flexibility to fly the Shuttle past 2010 and to accelerate Constellation," Kosmas said.

"I will fight at every turn to give NASA the flexibility to fly the Shuttle past 2010 in order to safely complete the scheduled launches and retain the highly skilled workforce at Kennedy Space Center," she said.

"Now, more than ever, NASA needs leadership and direction to deal with its growing challenges. I hope the president will quickly take action and appoint a NASA Administrator who understands these challenges and who is focused on minimizing the spaceflight gap."

Eleven months after the 2003 Columbia accident, then-President George Bush directed NASA to complete construction of the International Space Station and retire the agency's aging shuttle fleet by Sept. 30, 2010.

Bush's "Vision For Space Exploration" called for NASA to develop a new Crew Exploration Vehicle by 2014 and then return American astronauts to the moon by 2020. The U.S. would rely on Russia to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station during the gap between shuttle fleet retirement and the first piloted flights of successor spacecraft.

NASA at that time laid out a plan to return the shuttle fleet to service, resume assembly of the International Space Station and at the same time, effect a slow, methodical phase down of shuttle fleet operations.

NASA had been following that course for four years. Then as the 2008 presidential election approached, Congress directed NASA to take no further action before April 30 that would preclude an extension of the shuttle program beyond 2010.

The intent was to give a new administration an opportunity to make a call on shuttle fleet retirement plans after the inauguration on Jan. 20.

President Obama weighed in with his budget blueprint in February. It calls for NASA to finish assembly of the International Space Station and retire the shuttle by the end of 2010. It authorizes NASA to fly one additional mission if it can be done "safely and affordably" by the end of next year.

NASA now plans to launch a fifth and final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission on May 12. Eight more International Space Station assembly and outfitting missions also are on the books. Those flights include the single additional mission okayed by the Obama Administration -- a mission to haul a particle physics experiment up to the outpost.

NASA is putting in place plans to fly that mission, but Congress has not appropriated the money required to carry it out.

Said Curie: "We need to have the funding for that mission in order to accomplish it."

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the NASA image of the orbiter Endeavour being lowered onto a mobile launcher platform in High Bay No. 1 of the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building. You can also click the enlarged image to get an even bigger, more detailed view. Endeavour was mated to an external tank equipped with twin solid rocket boosters over the Easter weekend. The fully assembled shuttle is scheduled to roll out to launch pad 39B at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Endeavour would be launched on a rescue mission if Atlantis, now on pad 39A, sustains critical damage during its Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. If no rescue is required, Endeavour will be rolled around to pad 39A and launched June 13 on an International Space Station assembly mission. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder.


Mark Lopa said...

If the hard deadline--an absolutely ridiculous risk--is kept in place, NASA is going to be forced to cancel missions. There is no way they can launch the remaining missions before the end of next September. This smells like Challenger and Columbia all over again. Does anyone learn???

geff said...

how many scrubs is that

Anonymous said...

can anyone write a better article than this. something with excitement and descriptive language!!!!!

Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion, having spent the better part of 4 decades in the space business there are too many who 'work' at KSC, too many who wake up just to get a paycheck, not to see how far they can push human space flight today. There is no passion anymore. NASA needs to cut dead weight contractors like USA loose and start putting resources back into doing real science again. Everyone associated with the current space program should be ashamed that we haven't left low earth orbit since the last Apollo flight.

Anonymous said...

No surprise here. In Washington where experience, seniority and political friendships are king, we had two heavyweights in our corner, Weldon and Feeney. Weldon decided not to run and was replaced by middleweight Posey. Voters replaced Feeney with lightweight Kosmas. Medicare recipient Nelson is asleep at the switch and when awake has his head firmly planted in the 1980's. Martinez is a lame duck. Now add a President who is no fan of science and would rather spend money on social engineering instead of real engineering. What do you expect?

Anonymous said...

Ok then, put thousands out of work, more foreclosed houses, abandoned vehicles, closed shops, and use our tax dollars to pay the Russians to fly United States Astronauts. Sounds like the usual way this country runs - ass backwards! Do they realize what this will do to the local economy? Questions -
1. The end of Sept. 2010 do we just walk away without meeting our obligations to the other countries in the International Space Station?
2. Other countries - where is their money? Are they not concerned about other countries surpassing us in the space program which we are/were the leader of ?
3. Fly eight missions in a year - safely - with what NASA terms unsafe Shuttles?
4. Did they consider the need for replacement parts, weather including hurricanes, hail storms, and anything else that can happen?
5. Lastly, how do we safely process with a schedule like this and a deadline like what they have stated will be?

The comment above stating that anyone associated with the Space Program should be ashamed that we have not left the low earth orbit - obviously you know nothing about what we do and whose plans we follow. Workers do not make the plan - the president does - blame him/them - not the workers.

Anonymous said...

I love the space program, I love what NASA once meant to me. But it's gone and I'm sorry to say I agree with the last poster. How could we Americans settle for a craft that goes around the earth over and over again when NASA should have been building a huge planetary spacecraft that would take us to Mars and beyond? I still work out there and feel sadness at 2:30 - 3:00 when I see hundreds of cars speeding off KSC none willing to screw in that bolt tonight or type that memo a few minutes after quitting time. We as a nation must get back that sense of adventure and to those things that inspired us to be engineers, astronauts, or to just work at NASA.

John said...

Hey that is some great thinking there "anonymous". If you truly have been associated with the space industry for the better part of 40 years as you have said, with your attitude you must have been one of those people who "woke up to get a paycheck" if you truly believe that USA workers and other contractors are "dead weight". Do you have some contribution envy ?? I have never worked with a more dedicated and hard working group of people in my life that the people that make up the shuttle work force. Contractors/USA employees perform under NASA direction. If our government/NASA edicts something other than a low earth orbit than that is the direction the said contractors would take ..

Mike said...

At the personal level, and I am referring to the people I know at JSC and KSC, the civilian human spaceflight program represents the very best of what it means to be an American. At the Machiavellian level of national and international politics during a period of decline and panic, it is virtually impossible to defend a civilian human spaceflight program. NASA has a significant presence in maybe 10 states. That means 40 Congressional delegations are saying, "NASA? Whatever." Mike Griffin was far from perfect, but he had a deep understanding of NASA's past and future. It will be a miracle if we see a better NASA Administrator in the next four years.

Anonymous said...

griffen may have been far from perfect but that's your opinion, but we know for a fact he was head and shoulders above his predecessors- o'keefe and goldin: goldin, who left the agency in fiscal dissaray, having spent a decade tossing money around or o'keefe, whose bean-counting micro-management style resulted in a contracts that forced contractors to value their tiny profit margins and program cost savings over safety and ended in the loss of a shuttle and more importantly her brave crew.