NASA is Making Preliminary Plans to Extend Shuttle Launches Beyond 2010

According to an internal email, NASA staff have been instructed to initiate a study into extending the operational lifetime of the Shuttle to bridge the 5-year gap between planned Shuttle retirement and Constellation commencement. In an apparent U-turn in the US space agency’s policy, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has ordered a feasibility study to assess whether the ageing space vehicle fleet, first launched in 1981, can operate until 2015. This news comes at a time when concern is mounting for the US dependence on the Soyuz system after 2010, especially since the recent political chill between the US and Russia…

This news may come as a surprise to many, especially since Michael Griffin’s remarks that to extend the life of the Shuttle fleet could put astronauts in danger and cripple the agency’s fledgling Constellation program. However, there has been mounting political pressure on NASA to find an alternative to depending on the Russian space agency’s Soyuz spacecraft to access the International Space Station in the five years before the brand new Constellation Program is scheduled to launch by 2015. The recent military action in the South Ossetia region of Georgia has helped to increase political tensions; this is possibly one of the main contributing factors to the initiation of this feasibility study. Both US Presidential candidates, Barack Obama (Dem) and John McCain (Rep), are also pushing for a solution to the problematic “5-year gap.”

NASA officials have confirmed the internal email’s authenticity received by the Orlando Sentinel, a Florida-based news agency, but were keen to point out that it was too soon to say what the study’s reach would be.

In the email sent out on Wednesday by John Coggeshall, manager of manifest and schedules at Johnson Space Center in Houston, he said, “We want to focus on helping bridge the gap of U.S. vehicles traveling to the ISS (International Space Station) as efficiently as possible.” However, NASA spokesman John Yembrick was keen to point out to an Associated Press journalist that although the email was sent out, it was premature and “…the parameters of the study have not yet been defined.”

Griffin has, until now, been opposed to extending the Shuttle program primarily due to financial reasons; the effort and funds required could hurt the Constellation Program. But it would seem that world events and politics could be forcing him to reconsider…

Sources: AP, Orlando Sentinel

25 Replies to “NASA is Making Preliminary Plans to Extend Shuttle Launches Beyond 2010”

  1. There is a misguided belief that access to the ISS is worth more than the lives of our astronauts or standing up to the Russians.

    Its not.

    I would rather see the money and manpower used to fast track Constellation, design a new shuttle, upgrade the Taurus launch system, or even man rate another booster (titan? delta II?) and install a soyuze’d Gemini capsule with a 3rd seat.

    If the spaceflight gap cannot be closed by a safer option than extending shuttle flights, I’d prefer they drop the station in the sea.
    With what we’ve learned about space station operations in the last ten years we could replace it with a much improved outpost for less money and in less time.

  2. Its too bad. To be sure, we risk the lives of our astronauts every time we send them up in the Shuttle. Every time the Shuttle flies, with every mounting mission, we add to that risk. But are we increasing the danger they face beyond that by relying on Russian access to the ISS? Sadly, it seems so. Two reasons jump out at me. One is the military action in Georgia, mentioned here, which is straining the diplomatic relationship of our two countries. The second is that recent Soyuz “ballistic re-entry”…

  3. What ever happened to plans to use the ESA’s Jules Verne ATV to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. After all, it’s man-rated (can be outfitted to carry humans), had a flawless rendezvous & docking with the ISS (autonomously at that) & can carry more cargo, propellants & experiments than current Progress & Soyuz craft. I thought a working group between NASA and ESA was already studying this option. IF so, both the US & Europe need to properly fund and expedite this possibility. The Japanese Space Agency(JAXA) is also working on their own ATV, but lag far behind the Jules Verne in development and so would not be ready on such a short timeline.

  4. 2010: The Year We Make Contact (The Real Story)

    After watching the underground sci-fi classic, 2010, Mike Griffin goes out to his garage and putters about with his 1960-something Dodge Dart. Realizing he has the parts, the duct tape, the bondo, and the spare lawnmore engine, he says to himself, “I can do this. Dog-gonnit. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and I don’t nead any freaking money from anyone.” After spending about 3 days barricaded in his garage, he realizes his real inspiration is the Space Shuttle. He rushes to work in his bib overalls, armed with duct tape and spare lawnmower parts. He hastily assembles his crack-team of angry scientists and proclaims, “We can make this thing fly for another 25 years. We’re good enough. We’re smart enough. And dog-gonnit, we have a helluva lot of duct tape laying around.” The angry scientists begin chanting, “Hail Michael.” They begin hearing voices that say in unision, “If you build it, it will backfire.” Undeterred, their new found common cause begins solidifying as cult-like doctrine. They begin redesigning space suits to resemble The Dark Knight. Lawnmowers all over Florida suddenly begin disappearing at record numbers and middle-aged men all over the state mutter, “Where the hell did I put that duct tape?”

    Next time: Briggs and Stratton meets Space Shuttle.

  5. Come on, Fraser, you are hyping this story [which was broken by the Orlando Sentinel and is now all over the science press].

    What is REALLY happening: Griffith has made no change of plans. He is simply reacting to comments made by both Presidential candidates, who have expressed interest in closing the gap by extending the shuttle.

    After November, President Obama [couldn’t help myself!] will ask Dr. Mike to tell him what it would take to extend the shuttle. This study will take some time and by starting now Mike will have the answer.

    By the way, read Wayne Hale’s latest blog on the subject, well worth reading.

  6. Plans to phase out the Space Shuttle before we had any working replacement was a ludicrous proposition to begin with. I applaud taking another look at extending the life of the shuttles until the Constellation program (or another vehicle) is ready. Let us not forget that the Space Shuttles were originally designed for far more launches than they have been used for so far. Primarily due to the two Shuttle disasters (neither related to age), and the delays due to those disasters, our shuttles have not flown as often as envisioned. As the old folks would say, it’s not the age, but the mileage that matters…

  7. The reason the shuttles were being phased out is not just because they are getting old. Its also because their needs conflict with the constellation program.
    Nasa needs the money and facility space to develop a new launch system. Its also going to need time for tearing up old shuttle and Apollo pad equipment in making upgrades.

    What they are doing, in extending the shuttle, will probably roll constellations flight readiness date back.
    Unless these demands are matched with an incredible amount of funding the problem is going to get alot worse.

  8. Fund the Dragon of Spacex. The dragon is the key to american success in space. Close the gap! Think outside of the box….. it’s so obvious that this concept is still inside the box I would say!

  9. Sorry folks, Ares-I will never boost a crew into space without several extra billion more dollars. It is a horrible choice for a launcher and will most likely kill a crew in short order.

    The Jupiter-232 in the Direct 2.0 plan is better and cheaper and safer and could fly 2-3 years before Ares.

    And if you think Ares-V will ever get off the drawing boards and into space, you’re dreaming.

    Too many advantages to the Direct 2.0 plan to list here. Google it and see for yourselves.

    There is also a really great forum at which is mostly filled with rocket scientist and NASA engineers.

  10. Starbuck, you said it.
    – – – – – – – – –

    I do not understand why we are having to reinvent the wheel to go back to the moon and beyond. I like the idea of reusing things. Virtually all of the hardware to make the Jupiter-232 happen exist today (all we need, mainly is the capsule). Compared to the shuttle, at least with a capsule sitting on top of the main engines and fuel tanks, we would eliminate the problem of ice hitting and damaging the crew capsule. Yes, Ares-V will do the same too, but there are severe vibration problems to deal with by having it rise atop the solid-fuel rocket. With Jupiter-232 using a similar configuration of the SRBs and main fuel tanks (these items are known quantities), I dare say there is a lot of money to be saved in the process (don’t need to a cost accountant to see that) and the whole concept is a lot safer than putting our astronauts up in orbit with just an SRB on steroids.

  11. “Risking astronaut lives because of old equipment!” Simple! Build several existing design shuttles. This, of course, assumes the NASA geniuses didn’t order the destruction of the original CAD drawings, tooling and fixtures several years ago to save storage money.

  12. I cannot understand why NASA cannot get with the program and think ahead instead of thinking retro. They have had well over a decade since Challenger to move on and yet we are in the same old boat. A supersized Apollo and more shuttle flights with parts falling off is not the future of space exploration.

  13. I believe Nasa is thinking ahead.

    Just about every future space project (from moon missions to space solar power, new stations, better telescopes, and lets not get started on mars and asteroid missions) will require ever increasingly powerful launch systems.

    If you don’t build the big rocket now you’ll be doing it later, for similar cost, and with several years development time lost.
    All to serve a station with a short lifespan.

    Since ares can be adapted to work with automated shuttles or deep space capsules alike, it seems the better starting point for a system to suit all needs.

  14. This is ridiculous. They are extending an obsolete launch program to get to an obsolete space station.

    Please, just give the ISS away. It’s a stinking, rotting albatross around our necks.

    This is the 21st century, after all.

  15. Our Space program has at least 3 major problems today:

    1) Short term: Access to space, (Hubble and ISS) from 2010 to 2015.

    2) Long term: Creating a vehicle (or class of vehicles) that can service our future space needs (to reach ISS, Hubble, the moon and beyond).

    3) Funding to accomplish both 1 & 2 above.

    We cannot reasonably expect the US to rely solely on the Russians to provide our access to space after 2010 (it’s just too risky) and Ares just isn’t going to be ready until at least 2015, assuming no delays (and it seems like there’s always delays).

    There is no viable alternative for US access to space between 2010 – 2012 except by extending the Space Shuttle program until at least 2012, maybe beyond (read my post above regarding the Shuttles usage and age).

    It’s very feasible that Direct v2.0 (aka Jupiter series) could be ready in 2 to 3 years using proven, readily available technology. Given the funding problems (US deficit, 2 concurrent wars, Social Security, etc…), and the time restraints that Ares imposes, a Jupiter Series of spacecraft could not only be ready faster, but cheaper with the same or better crew and payload capacity. Different versions of Jupiter have been designed for low-orbit, moon access and even Mars.

    I don’t know about you, but it seems extremely foolish to spend decades of time and billions of dollars building an International Space Station only to abandon it just as soon as you complete it in 2010!
    Talk about a waste of time and money! From my perspective, I’ve always been disappointed that ISS’ original size and capabilities were scaled back to begin with.

    Progress and advances in flight have always been incremental.

    Considering the design, technical, cost and availability problems facing the Ares program, the alternatives of extending the Space Shuttle and reusing Space Shuttle technology in Direct v2.0 is looking better and better each day…

  16. Bearing in mind that Nasa has an almost identical safety record to the Russian space agency even with the age of the orbiter craft I think the main problem here will be the fact that some of the facilities for making components for the shuttle fleet have already been decommissioned. Then there is ESA’s Jules Verne which could be converted easily for manned spaceflight (the hardest bit would be modifying the design for re-entry but that was factored in in the 1st place). Given some of the recent re-entry F-ups from the Soyus an alternative is needed anyway.

  17. i suspect history will show all this current space effort will produce little of value to mankind. As I pointed out in several past posts, if Einstein is correct, man will never leave the influence of our sun. We’re simply too fragile and life spans too short. Our arrogance ‘tthat we can do anything’ will cost billions of dollars better spent elsewhere and countless lives will be lost until we ‘wake up’ to the fact that we are trapped in the solar system. Oh, there will interesting questions answered along the way exploring the solar system. Several worthy devices will be developed benefiting mankind, but that will be about it. Man may put a science team on Pluto or possibly beyond late this or the next century. Then what? Attempt a trip to Alph C? We all know the answer this question. However, this could all change if man develops a means to exceed the speed of light several orders of magnitude.

  18. Sadly we are on a road of continuing confrontation with Russia, and we can assume difficult access to Soyuz flights. We either want to use the space station or not in the next five years, or however long it takes, to get the next spacecraft up and running. That effort appears to be incurring inevitable delays due to it invention of new, vs shuttle, technology. So it’s shuttle or nothing for manned flight in the interregnum. For the trillions we have poured into war, I say spend the few billions now to bridge the gap. This is a strategic, next president, decision.
    An aside: we shouldn’t use the word “easily” when talking about new spacecraft development (the Verne). The Europeans have yet to demonstrate manned capability and it won’t happen in the timeframe in question.

  19. @ Chuck Lam

    I totally agree. The only way to escape our navel gazing is to begin looking at space travel from a very different point of view. Travel that exceeds the tired, worn-out, post-industrial-propulsion-driven mindset is the only way we will move beyond the solar system….

  20. Your asking for us to build a hydrofoil to the stars when our experience has only been in making wooden canoes.
    We gain experience by doing.

  21. Can’t do. Period! Even if the politicians can convince the rest of us that the shuttle can fly a couple of years more, somebody will have to convince the space shuttle itself… hard to do because the shuttles are physically done. If you design a piece of hardware for a 20 year life span, you have to retire it after 20 years.

  22. Can’t do?…That’s BS it’s certified for 20 years, doesn’t mean it can’t be certified for longer.

    There are many “5 year” satelites still working after 30 years.

    There are still model T’s around…

  23. B-52’s are still around too. Bigelow says he can build a space station in orbit for $500 million USD that’s bigger than the ISS. If we bailed on the ISS now, the money saved would easily build a brand new bigger, better, faster, stronger, lighter, safer, cheaper space station in an orbital inclination that would be ideal to launch to from Cape Canaveral.

  24. I read your blog for quite a long time and should tell that your posts always prove to be of a high value and quality for readers.

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