The Space Shuttle Program - The Future Of The Space Shuttle Program
iss nasa hst flight
As of July 2004 the space shuttle fleet remained grounded. NASA hoped to conduct the next flight in late 2004. Plans for STS-114 call for the orbiter Atlantis to fly to the ISS and deliver a module and platform for the station. This "Return to Flight" mission would also test new on-flight systems and procedures incorporated after the Columbia accident.
NASA, as of 2004, had thirty-three more missions tentatively scheduled for the shuttle flight manifest. Some of these missions are to deliver and return ISS crewmembers. In order to reduce the shuttle flight schedule, NASA officials may ask the Russian Space Agency Rosaviakosmos to handle ISS crew transport aboard its Soyuz spacecraft. An American ISS crewmember flew on a Soyuz rocket in October 2003 due to grounding of the space shuttle fleet.
Flying American astronauts aboard Russian spacecraft raises legal problems for the Bush Administration. Rosaviakosmos is expected to charge the U.S. a large sum of money if it must take over all ISS crew transport responsibilities. However the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 forbids payment of "extraordinary" amounts of money from the U.S. to Russia until it is proven that Russia is not sharing with Iran any technology related to missiles or weapons of mass destruction. This ban remained in effect as of early 2004. NASA might have to ask Congress for a waiver from the law, but it is uncertain whether this would be granted.
Space shuttle difficulties also affect other ongoing missions. NASA originally planned to send shuttle astronauts in 2006 to service the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The HST orbits in space about 350 miles above the Earth's surface. Scientists believe that it can last only until 2006 or 2007 without servicing. Then it will lose its orbit and fall to Earth.
In January 2004 NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe announced that the planned HST servicing mission will be canceled due to safety concerns. The HST orbits far from the ISS. A shuttle sent to service the HST would not be able to make it to the ISS in an emergency or to conduct the orbiter inspections that are expected to be mandatory on future missions.
NASA does not plan to launch HST's replacement (the James Webb Space Telescope) until 2011. Cancellation
|SOURCE: "Figure 5.5-3. Shuttle Upgrade Budget (in Millions of Dollars)," in Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report, Volume I, Part 2, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, DC, August 2003 [Online] http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/caib/PDFS/VOL1/PART02.PDF [accessed January 14, 2004]|
of the shuttle servicing mission will likely mean that the HST will fall out of orbit before the new telescope is in place. This would mean a gap of several years in which scientists would not have access to a space telescope.
In January 2004 President Bush announced a new vision for the future of the nation's space program. It calls for NASA to send astronauts to the moon by 2020 and to Mars after that. This would require a completely new spacecraft. The space shuttle was not designed to fly farther than a few hundred miles from Earth. The space shuttle program would be ended by 2010, assuming that existing U.S. commitments to build the ISS are completed by then. The nearly $6 billion spent each year on the shuttle and ISS programs would be transferred to the new projects, which would also be allocated new funds.
It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Congress and the American people will support this space agenda. Either way, the space shuttle program will likely end within the next decade or two. NASA's 2003 Strategic Plan (which was written before the Columbia disaster) called for phasing out of the shuttle program by 2020 at the latest. It was expected that by 2010 the shuttle would be largely replaced by a new vehicle called an Orbital Space Plane (OSP) that could handle transport to and from the ISS and other missions in low-Earth orbit. The OSP was to be followed by another spacecraft featuring completely new technology to be developed during the 2010s. All future plans for a crewed vehicle remain in limbo until the nation decides which direction to proceed with space exploration.