WASHINGTON -Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) unveiled legislation Dec. 17 aimed at keeping theU.S. space shuttle fleet flying beyond its planned 2010 retirement.
The plancalls for giving NASA $3.7 billion designed to make up for past fundingshortfalls that he said jeopardize continued operation of the shuttle andtimely development of its planned replacement, the OrionCrew Exploration Vehicle and Ares I rocket.
The newsystem currently is expected to make its debut inMarch 2015, some four and a half years after NASA plans to fly the shuttlefor the last time.
Weldon'slegislation, which he plans to introduce in Congress in coming days, wouldclose the gap in U.S. human spaceflights by authorizing "such sums as maybe necessary" to fly the space shuttle twice a year between 2010 and 2015.
"Mybill plugs NASA's human spaceflight gap and ensures a smoother landing for the shuttleworkforce and lift-off for Constellation," Weldon said in a statementreleased following a Dec. 17 press conference at the Kennedy Space CenterVisitor Complex.
Weldon'soffice made no accommodations for media outside central Florida to cover theannouncement. According to local media accounts of the event, Weldon estimatedthat conducting the post-2010 shuttle flights would cost $2 billion a year.NASA currently spends about twice that amount on shuttle operations.
Weldon'sannouncement came as Congress was poised to take up an omnibus spending billthat includes the $17.3 billion the White House requested for NASA for 2008,but would increase the agency's spending on science and aeronautics at theexpense of Orionand Ares. Also stripped from the compromise measure was an extra $1 billionapproved by the Senate to help NASA recover financially from the 2003 space shuttle Columbiaaccident.
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