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Nas As Future Retire Shuttle Fleet, Focus On Next Generation: [Final Edition]

652 words - 3 pages

NJ EditorialAGENDA 2005 Growth Management

Atrue space program is about exploration by any imaginable means possible. NASAs unmanned crafts voyaging across the solar system and beyond over the last four decades, and the literally limitless discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope, showed physical boundaries to be as relative as time. A true space program is also about sending astronauts into space. NASAs record on that score is stellar, too, first with the Apollo program and its six manned missions to the Moon, then with Skylab in the mid-1970s, the space shuttle since 1982, the building of the international space station since 1998, and manning the station uninterruptedly, with Russian cosmonauts, since November 2000. Setbacks have not been few nor easy to forget among them the fire atop the Apollo 1 rocket that killed the crew of three during a training exercise in 1967, the Challenger explosion after launch in 1986, and the disintegration of Columbia on ...view middle of the document...

Minus the budget cuts, its time to do the same with the shuttle program. Discoverys scheduled return Aug. 7 should also be any space shuttles last. To call the shuttle a relic is no understatement. It is a machine conceived in the 1960s, designed and built in the 1970s based on 1970s technology. At this very moment, the seven astronauts aboard Discovery depend on that time warps reliability for their safe return. Daily, the news about the shuttles readiness for re-entry has been a roller coaster of assurances and uncertainty. But there can be nothing reassuring about felt-like gap fillers protruding from the crafts underbelly, for example, even as NASA guesses that the protrusions could have been routine parts of previous flights, unseen only because no cameras were there to see them. But what of the unseen? No cameras could have caught the O-ring problem that doomed Challenger, for instance. Inherent risks aside, so much uncertainty is still too much to ask of astronauts for so little scientific or exploratory return. The shuttle served its purpose. At $1.3 billion per launch, the shuttle is now benefiting mostly its thousands of earthbound contractors while giving NASAs manned space program little more than a reason to exist. In fact, the shuttle program has turned into a drag for what the manned program ought to be. It is severely tarnishing the programs luster while delaying quicker investments in next-generation technology. A cheaper, safer shuttle awaits development. Thats where the energies of NASAs manned program should be. President Bush ordered the current shuttle program ended by 2010. But attempting, yet again, to retool the shuttle for further flights until then would divert more than $25 billion on a has-been with little to no justification. The shuttles only purpose now is to service the international space station. But the station isnt dependent on shuttle flights. It is being serviced by the Russians unmanned Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, and the Jules Verne, an unmanned European space agency shuttle, begins trips to the station next year. NASA should focus on its next-generation shuttle fleet, and perhaps the feasibility of returning astronauts to the Moon in preparation for a manned flight to Mars. First, however, get Discovery home safely.

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