Space Shuttles: To fly or not to fly past 2010

Space junkies would find this news from Reuters interesting; U.S. urged to keep space shuttle flying past 2010.

The United States should keep flying the space shuttles past their 2010 retirement date to avoid depending on Russia to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, a U.S. congressman said on Monday.

U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, a Republican whose Florida district includes the Kennedy Space Center, proposed extending the shuttles’ lifetime to close the gap until their replacement ships, called Orion, are ready for their first manned flights in 2015.

His proposal, which would cost about $10 billion, would have the shuttles make six or seven additional flights between 2010 and 2013 and speed up development of the Orion ships to be ready by then.

A second proposal would keep the shuttles flying until 2015 and leave Orion’s schedule alone.

ShuttleAlmost everyone in this generation knows or is familiar about the Space Shuttle. Heck, I’ve been wanting to have a toy space shuttle back when I was a kid. But the spacecraft, it’s technology and design is now outdated, costly to maintain and let’s not forget the tragedies of the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy, that’s why they have been scheduled to retire come 2010.

To replace the shuttle, NASA is building and developing the Orion and Ares spacecrafts to continue the exploration of space, with ultimate goal of landing humans on Mars. However, these won’t be ready to fly astronauts until 2015 so there’s a 5-year gap in following the shuttle’s scheduled retirement.

With the completion of the International Space Station still in its task list, NASA will have to find alternatives to continue sending parts and men to space to complete the job. Paying the Russians to ferry astronauts back and forth from space is an option but Florida’s Rep. Dave Weldon, a Republican, says otherwise and instead proposes to extend the lifespan of the shuttles.

NASA however is not warm to the idea. For them, it would too costly to keep shuttles flying. It could also be a waste of time, efforts and resources as they are currently working on the shuttle’s replacement. With deadlines to be met, they don’t want to be distracted.

So the option of Russia taxiing US astronauts while Orion gets ready is not really that bad. It would boost closer ties and cooperation between the two former Cold War rivals which could then seep into non-space international issues. The world would be a safer place then, hopefully.

But what could’ve prompted Rep. Dave Weldon to propose the extension of the shuttle’s lifespan? Well it could be US patriotism and national pride that drove him but let’s recall what Obi Wan once told Anakin in Star Wars Episode 2; “Palpatine is a politician and they are not to be trusted.

I don’t know if Weldon is someone like Palpatine, (I sure hope not!), then again he is from Florida where the Kennedy Space Center is located where the shuttles are based. If the shuttles are grounded for good, people in Florida could loose their jobs and with elections coming up in the US, jobless Americans could become unhappy voters.

My stars! Who said space exploration was a neutral or apolitical endeavor!

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While on the subject of national pride, space race and dealing with the Russians, I’d like to share an anecdote I once read in the internets;

When NASA sent off astronauts to space, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens wouldn’t work in zero gravity. They spent $12 billion dollars and 10 years developing a pen that would work in zero gravity, write on almost any surface including glass, with temperatures from below freezing up to 300 C. On the other hand, facing the same problem, the Russians came up with an ingenious solution, they used pencils!

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