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Obama Reviews Space Shuttle Finale

Report Urges President-Elect to Forge Shuttle Plan
President-elect Barack Obama gives his acceptance speech at Grant Park in Chicago Tuesday night, Nov. 4, 2008.
(Image: © AP Photo/Morry Gash.)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - TheObama administration is taking a sweeping look at NASA that focuses on plans toretire the nation's aging shuttle fleet in 2010.

Five space policy experts -four of whom held key NASA posts during the Clinton administration - aregathering data on options to close an anticipated five-year gap in U.S.human spaceflight. They aim to brief the incoming president before his Jan.20 inauguration.

"They advised us thatthe shuttle retirement was going to be their No. 1 priority," BrevardCounty Commissioner Mary Bolin said. "And that was just tremendous to hearbecause that is a concern for our citizens. That hits us straight in theheart."

"I was very impressedwith them," Commissioner Robin Fisher said. "It seems that President-electObama has everything in order, and he's movingat a fast pace."

Bolin, Fisher and LyndaWeatherman, president and chief executive of the Economic DevelopmentCommission of Florida's Space Coast, met with the Obama's NASA Review Team lastweek in Washington.

"They welcomed us withopen arms and, basically, wanted to be briefed on some of the concerns that wehave in Brevard County," Fisher said. "And the loss of jobs is onethat is near and dear to my heart. That's something I don't want to seehappen."

An estimated 3,500 KennedySpace Center jobs areexpected to be lost during the gap between the shuttle retirement and thefirst piloted flights of the Ares 1 rocket and the Orion spacecraft in March2015.

President George W. Bush'splan calls for the United States to rely on Russiato fly American astronauts to and from the International Space Station in theinterim. Obama said during his presidential campaign that he wants to minimizethe gap and reduce reliance on Russia.

A list of questions submittedto NASA - excerpts of which were published this month in the trade publicationSpace News - shows that President-elect Barack Obama's team is gathering dataon a range of options.

The team asked NASA toprovide information on the costs involved with:

  • Adding one or more shuttle missions beyond the 2010 retirement date.
  • Flying the shuttle through 2015.
  • Accelerating the development of the Ares 1 rocket and the Orion spacecraft.

But the team also is askingNASA to provide data on other options, such as:

  • The costs that could be saved by canceling the Ares 1, Orion and Ares 5 projects.
  • The technical challenges engineers face in fielding the Ares 1, such as launch vibrations that could damage the rocket or injure its crew.
  • The cost of developing a smaller Orion space capsule that could fly to the station on an upgraded version of an Atlas 5 or Delta 4 rocket.
  • The feasibility of flying smaller Orion capsules on European Ariane 5 or Japanese H2A rockets.

Former U.S. astronautCharlie Precourt, vice president of NASA space launch systems for Ares rocketmanufacturer ATK, said he isn't surprised that the team is gatheringinformation on such a wide range of options. He calls it "duediligence."

"I think that thereare certainly a lot of people that have been asking questions that NASA hasrevisited and reviewed a number of times, and I think the team wants to revisitand answer these questions to their own satisfaction," Precourt said."I really struggle at trying to make conclusions on where they are going,based on the flavor of the questions, although people like to do that."

Like the Obama teamsevaluating 27 other federal agencies, the NASA group is chartered to providethe president-elect with information needed to make policy, budgetary andpersonnel decisions before the inauguration. The team does not makerecommendations.

Precourt thinks a thoroughreview will lead to a decision to press ahead with the development of the Ares1 rocket and the Orion spacecraft.

"I think the questionsare fairly easily answered," he said. "And those answers will pointto the advantages of the Ares-Orion architecture being the right course tocontinue on."


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