Monday, January 04, 2010

Can shuttle program finish its flights this year?

Todd Halvorson reported Sunday that NASA will have to nearly double its post-Columbia annual flight rate if the agency is to complete the shuttle's five final missions this year, a FLORIDA TODAY analysis of launch data shows.

It can be done, as last year proved.

INTERACTIVE TIMELINE: Shuttle flights year by year

"I would tell you that the odds are high that we'll make it," said Mike Moses, NASA's shuttle launch integration manager at Kennedy Space Center. "I think we have a really good shot at it."

"I think we're ready to execute," echoed Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for space operations.

Under the current plan, the first mission of the year is scheduled to blast off on Feb. 7, and the last shuttle to fly is set to touch down on Sept. 24, ending a program that has stretched for nearly three decades.

The Bush administration in 2004 set Sept. 30, 2010, as the deadline for completing the International Space Station and retiring the shuttle fleet.

President Barack Obama's administration eased that deadline to the end of 2010, and both the White House and Congress have signaled support for funding the shuttle program in 2011, if needed.

The reason: Schedule pressure was cited as a contributing cause to both the 1986 Challenger disaster and the 2003 Columbia accident, so moves have been made to erase a hard deadline.

NASA nonetheless intends to launch five missions in about seven months. Gerstenmaier said NASA might spread out the schedule a bit to ease pressure.

You can read the full story by following this link.

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