As Shuttle Launch Looms, NASA Workers in 'Shock' Over Future
Space shuttle Endeavour atop the crawler transporter nears Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 6, 2010 to prepare for a Feb. 7 launch.
Credit: NASA TV

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - With the launch of space shuttle Endeavour just two days away, NASA workers are staying focused despite being in shock from the cancellation of the agency?s moon program earlier this week.

Endeavour is set to blast off early Sunday morning from a seaside pad here at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center at 4:39 a.m. EST (0939 GMT). It is the first of NASA?s five final shuttle missions and comes less than a week after Monday?s announcement that the space agency is canceling the program responsible for replacing the aging orbiter fleet.

?There?re a few folks that are kind of reeling from the shock,? said Mike Moses, NASA?s shuttle integration manager, in a Friday briefing.

On Monday, President Barack Obama rolled out the 2011 budget request for NASA as part of the nation?s larger budget. The request would scrap NASA?s current Constellation program, which has been building the Orion spacecraft and Ares rockets slated to replace the shuttle fleet, and set aside $6 billion over five years to support the development of commercial spaceships capable of launching astronauts into space.

NASA has spent five years and $9 billion working on the Constellation program, so the moon program?s elimination came as a surprise for many within the space agency.

But, Moses stressed, the team is working hard to focus today on launching Endeavour and its crew of six astronauts safely to the International Space Station (ISS). The shuttle is flying a 13-day mission to deliver a new room and observation portal to the space station.

?I don?t spend a lot of time thinking about the future because if we can?t do what we?re doing today, or on Sunday, right, then there really is no future for any of the spaceflight programs or the ISS,? Moses said. ?So we?ve got to get this flight done. ?

NASA launch director Mike Leinbach described the feeling of some shuttle workers as one of ?angst? over the coming retirement of the agency?s three orbiters; Endeavour, Discovery and Atlantis.? They have known for years that the space shuttles will be retired at the end of 2010 to make way for their replacements, but now there is new uncertainty.?

?Distractions are there. Shock is there, uncertainty,? Leinbach said of his personal feelings.

But when it comes time to launch astronauts and shuttles, Leinbach said the focus is sharp and unwavering.

?I asked everybody to treat these last five missions like a professional team, we can be down in the fourth quarter,? Leinbach said. ?We can be many, many points behind, but we?re going to play every down and we?re going until the final whistle blows.?

The sports metaphor is especially appropriate for Endeavour?s upcoming launch. After all, the shuttle is launching on Super Bowl Sunday.

?It?s a case where we?re going to play this game to the very end,? Leinbach said. ?It?s the only way we can play it.?

SPACE.com is providing complete coverage of Endeavour's STS-130 mission to the International Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik in Cape Canaveral and Staff Writer Clara Moskowitz in New York. Click here for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV.