Ride: Shuttle Retirement to Slip 6 Months, Orion Flight by 2 Years

Model of NASA's Orion spacecraft
Model of NASA's Orion spacecraft

U.S. Spaceflight Gap Wider Than Thought
Aviation Week

NASA probably won’t be able to meet its 2010 deadline for retiring the space shuttle fleet, and even if it does it will probably take about two years longer than planned to get the follow-on vehicles into operation, meaning the anticipated five-year gap in U.S. human space access is likely to stretch by at least a year.

At a public meeting Tuesday of the panel on the future of U.S. human spaceflight headed by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, former astronaut Sally Ride presented findings on prospects for closing the space-access gap based on quick studies by the Aerospace Corp. and NASA’s Program Analysis & Evaluation office.

“Just looking at this and applying our best judgment, we think it’s wise to assume a two-year slip in the Constellation IOC [Initial Operational Capability], just for prudent planning at this stage,” Ride told a packed auditorium near Johnson Space Center.

She said the quick-look analyses her group requested found the widening gap to be the result of inadequate budgets for NASA’s Constellation Program, which is developing the Ares I crew launch vehicle and the Orion crew capsule intended to follow the shuttle after its planned retirement at the end of fiscal 2010.

Based on the time it has been taking to process and launch shuttles under post-Columbia flight rules, Ride’s group estimated it probably will be March 2011 before the remaining seven missions are completed, instead of the end of September 2010. As she spoke the space shuttle Endeavour was backing away from the International Space Station (ISS), where it left the orbiting laboratory essentially complete with the installation of an exposed experiment platform on Japan’s Kibo laboratory module.

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