The space shuttle era could get a new lease on life under a bill filed today by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
The measure would delay the shuttle’s planned retirement in 2010 until NASA is confident that a replacement spacecraft is ready or that the shuttle and its massive payload bay is no longer needed to keep the International Space Station afloat through 2020.
The 37-page bill also authorizes an additional $1.3 billion in NASA spending next year above President Barack Obama’s request of $19 billion. The extra money would help prepare NASA for as many as two additional shuttle flights per year after 2010, as well as fund new spacecraft development.
“This must not be an ‘either or’ proposition where we are forced to choose between continuing to fly the shuttle to service the station and maintain our independence in reaching space, or investing in the next generation of space vehicle. We can and must do both,” Hutchison said in a statement.
The Chief doesn’t always appreciate Sen. Hutchinson’s brand of semi-conservatism, but in this case she’s spot-on:
…the Hutchison measure emphasizes the need for NASA to have a government-run system that could lift astronauts into space. The new bill also calls for the “continuation or modification” of programs initiated under the Constellation program.
“While commercial transportation systems may contribute valuable services, it is in the United States’ national interest to maintain a government operated space transportation system for crew and cargo delivery to low-Earth orbit and beyond,” it notes.
The private spaceflight efforts need to encouraged, and have administrative hurdles lowered. At the same time, as noted above, a continuing ability for the US to directly access the orbital high-ground is absolutely critical as a matter of national security…the space station be damned!