WASHINGTON ? Florida lawmakers on Wednesdayintroduced legislation to extend the shuttle beyond its scheduled retirementthis year and speed government development of a heavy-lift rocket.
The bill is designed to counter PresidentBarack Obama's budget for NASA, which proposes abandoning the Constellationprogram to return people to the moon and would continue plans to retire theshuttle.
Obama wants to rely on Russian and commercialrockets to ferry supplies and people to the International Space Station, whichhe has proposed extending from 2015 to 2020.
But Reps. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach,and Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, say the country should rely on government spacevehicles such as the shuttle and the next rocket. The bill they introducedWednesday mirrors one introduced March 3 by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
"This bill is intended to maintain arobust human spaceflight program that will protect Space Coast jobs, enhanceour national security and generate scientific and technological advances thatboost our economy," Kosmas said.
Their proposed legislation calls for fundingtwo shuttle flights a year and making the fleet'sretirement dependent on the availability of a replacement vehicle or untilthe shuttle is no longer needed for the space station.
Extending the shuttle would close the several-yearsgap between the shuttle's retirement and development of the next rocket capableof carrying people. The extension would be an alternative to depending onRussian rockets or unproven commercial rockets.
But one of the big questions is money. A NASAofficial said Tuesday that shuttle fleet operations cost $200 million a month,or about $2.4 billion a year. Another question is safety, with some safetyexperts arguing that it's time to ground the aging fleet.
"We need a plan to close the space gapthat actually maintains America's ability to send American astronauts intospace," Posey said.
Obama has scheduled a space summit in Floridaon April 15 to discuss his plans with experts.
Posey will participate in a news conferencetoday calling on NASA Administrator CharlesBolden to explain how the president's proposed budget would maintainuninterrupted U.S. access to space.
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