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NASA Shuttle Retirement Postponed ... Maybe

By Ed O'Keefe

NASA's Congressional supporters appear to have bought some time in their efforts to ease the Space Shuttle program's hard retirement date, as the House and Senate conference agreement on the budget resolution reached this week would fund Shuttle missions beyond September 2010.

The storied Space Shuttle program is set to end at that time to make way for future missions to the Moon and Mars with the Constellation Program. There is wide concern that a hard end date could jeopardize the safety of the eight remaining Shuttle missions and the thousands of government and private-sector jobs tied to NASA. Without FY 2011 funding, NASA would be unable to continue any missions that did not launch in time. Missions regularly miss their scheduled launch dates since last-minute safety checks often reveal issues that merit a delay.

This week's agreement matches President Obama's fiscal year 2010 budget requests for NASA and then forecasts spending $2.5 billion more in FY 2011, which would allow the agency to fly any of the remaining shuttle missions beyond the current deadline.

“This budget is a significant step towards maintaining safety, minimizing the spaceflight gap, and preserving the highly skilled workforce at Kennedy Space Center and throughout Central Florida," Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) said in a statement today. "Kennedy Space Center is an economic engine for our community and I will not stand idly by while these jobs are at risk.”

Despite Kosmas' good cheer, the budget resolution merely provides a blueprint for lawmakers as the appropriations committees budget for fiscal year 2010 and beyond. While the panels generally follow the conference agreement's guidance, there's no guarantee.

Whle some wallet-watching lawmakers may be weary of extending the program, but an extension would save thousands of government jobs in Florida, Texas and elsewhere amid the economic downturn.

All of this is happening despite near-radio silence from the Obama administration on the future of NASA. The president has discussed NASA only once, during a meeting with reporters last month. Observers expect the White House to announce Obama's nominee for NASA administrator in the near future.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | April 28, 2009; 4:10 PM ET
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NASA has two sides, science and engineering. While they are both important, they should not be confused. While the space station was promoted as being a "science" platform, very little science occurs there. It is almost totally (at least until now) an engineering exercise.

The unmanned missions are where the vast majority of science occurs. If you want to know about the extent of global climate change, then unmanned missions will yield clues. If you want to know about possible life outside of earth, then unmanned missions are the path to the answer.

There is a small amount of cross-over, such as the shuttle mission to repair the Hubble. But for the most part, putting people in space helps us learn how to put people in space, not much about the world and universe that we live in.

Posted by: cyberfool | April 28, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

Let us hope that legislators finally get a clue and extend the life of the shuttle lest the U.S. space program becomes dependent on Russia, as in Vladimir Putin's Russia. I just wish they'd can that whole 'Constellation' deal which was nothing more than Dubya's attempt to emulate Kennedy, just one more task at which Dubya is a hopeless failure. NASA's overall 'mission' needs a thorough vetting. It's been drifting here and stumbling there since Apollo. Someone needs to ask: do we really need a 'NASA' and, if so, why? Has NASA become a make-work jobs agency for aerospace contractors? Is that ALL it is? We ought to take this opportunity to ask some hard questions. We no longer have money to waste on jobs for booster builders--unless the purpose of building those boosters is absolutely clear to all. Including you and me. You see, WE PAY FOR IT!

Posted by: free9604 | April 28, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

I could never understand why the STS program was going to shut down. Yes, there have been tragedies, near misses and other problems over the years. All of the difficulties have been overcome, one at a time. What we have now is an old but proven system that does not launch until everything is perfect. --- Consider the Boeing 737 aircraft, another proven design. (from Wikipedia) The 737 has been continuously manufactured by Boeing since 1967 with over 6,000 aircraft delivered and 2,000 orders yet to be fulfilled as of March 2009. The 737 series is the most-ordered and most-produced jet airliner in history as of April 2009. There are over 1,250 737s airborne at any given time, with one departing or landing somewhere every five seconds on average.

Posted by: isenberg888 | April 28, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

Does this manifest of remaining missions include STS-134 to install the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the ISS? The status of this mission has been in question since the Columbia accident report.

Posted by: tharriso | April 28, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

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