CAPE CANAVERAL ? The last scheduled space shuttle flight is likely to slip into early next year, Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana said Tuesday.
After that and possibly one more mission next summer, if funding is approved, Cabana hopes to see KSC transition to a future less reliant on a single NASA program like Apollo, the shuttle or even Constellation.
"What we don't want to be in the future is tied to any one large program," he told about 300 attendees at the National Space Club Florida Committee's monthly lunch meeting, held at the Radisson Resort at the Port.
"We want to spread the wealth a little bit, so that when these programs come and go, it doesn't impact us in the community or at the space center so much," he said.
Cabana outlined a future based on President Barack Obama's proposed 2011 budget, which would cancel the major human spaceflight program that had been expected to replace the shuttle, called Constellation.
Instead, Cabana said KSC would serve as a state-of-the-art launching point for both government and commercial missions, manned or unmanned, with the help of nearly $2 billion over five years to upgrade facilities.
A former shuttle launch pad -- likely 39B, which is scheduled to be demolished starting this summer -- would be reconfigured to serve a variety of commercial vehicles.
Technology research now restricted to a few areas would be broadened to become a focus for the center, related to the development and testing of heavy-lift rocket propulsion systems and "flagship" technologies needed for deep space missions.
The center would help launch NASA science missions and robotic precursors to human exploration missions, prepare payloads for the International Space Station and oversee flights by astronauts on commercial rockets and spacecraft.
"If we do it right and the money's there, we can actually end up with more work further down the road," Cabana said. "We'll have something that's sustainable, and we'll be better off in the end."
He acknowledged difficult days ahead after the shuttle's retirement, when up to 8,000 KSC contractors will face layoffs, according to local estimates.
But he said thousands of job losses were expected even if Constellation proceeded.
"We just have a little bigger problem to deal with," he said. "And we've been working on it."
In the near term, Cabana said the dates of two remaining shuttle missions are likely to slip, as many expected.
The final scheduled flight of Discovery, targeted for Sept. 16, could end up in October.
An Endeavour flight targeted for late November is likely to move to February because the payload, the $1.5 billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, won't be delivered to KSC in time to support the earlier date.
It's not yet clear how NASA would pay for flights next year. The shuttle program has funding to fly through the end of 2010, and managers have said savings set aside along the way could support operations for another month or two.
The White House and Congress are considering adding a third and final shuttle mission that could be flown next June. Each additional month of shuttle operations would cost $100 million to $200 million.
"For sure, we've got two more," Cabana said.
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