Congress, NASA

So exactly when are we retiring the shuttle?

During yesterday’s Senate hearing on the impending retirement of the space shuttle, NASA administrator Mike Griffin and space subcommittee chairman Sen. Bill Nelson got into a debate regarding exactly when the space shuttle would be retired. Griffin’s opening statement stated the following: “I would like to give you an update on our plans to ensure that space transportation capabilities remain available through the completion of ISS assembly and during the ISS post-assembly period after the Space Shuttle fleet has been retired in 2010.” In his own opening statement, Nelson expressed concern that “NASA is improperly planning to retire the space shuttle on an arbitrary date in 2010, rather than completing the current manifest as required by both the President’s Vision document and the authorization act.”

Griffin, in response to a question along those lines from Nelson, said, “The President has directed that the space shuttle be retired by the end of 2010, and our budgetary planning does show that we will finish our last space shuttle flight in fiscal 2010, and at this point we have five months of margin to do that.”

“I want to challenge that,” Nelson responded. “Because I’m reading from the President’s Vision for Space Exploration, and it says, ‘Retire the space shuttle as soon as assembly of the International Space Station is completed, planned for the end of this decade.’ So where do you see that the President has ‘required’ – is the word that you used?”

“Well, I stand corrected, sir,” Griffin said.

Or was he? It’s easy to see where the confusion stems from. Nelson appeared to be quoting from this document about the Vision for Space Exploration from January 2004, which does indeed state, “Retire the Space Shuttle as soon as assembly of the International Space Station is completed, planned for the end of this decade”. However, an accompanying fact sheet states something subtly different: “The Shuttle’s chief purpose over the next several years will be to help finish assembly of the Station, and the Shuttle will be retired by the end of this decade after nearly 30 years of service.” (This comes after a passage that states that “America will complete its work on the International Space Station by 2010″, which is itself deliciously vague.)

Then there’s what President Bush himself said in his speech at NASA Headquarters on January 14, 2004. “The Shuttle’s chief purpose over the next several years will be to help finish assembly of the International Space Station,” he said. “In 2010, the Space Shuttle — after nearly 30 years of duty — will be retired from service.”

Nearly a year later, the administration released a new space transportation policy that words the shuttle retirement slightly differently, and in a manner that Sen. Nelson would likely approve of: “The Space Shuttle will be returned to flight as soon as practical, based on the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board; used to complete assembly of the International Space Station, planned for the end of this decade; and then retired.” (Emphasis added.)

Despite all the word games, it seems likely that, barring an accident of some other major change in direction for the space agency, the shuttle will remain in operation until the ISS is complete—or, rather, the ISS will be declared complete when the shuttle is retired (after all, “assembly complete” for ISS has historically been a flexible target.)

10 comments to So exactly when are we retiring the shuttle?

  • CitizenG

    Griffin didn’t use the word “require” either in his written or spoken testimony, perhaps Nelson was previously hit by a bolt of lightning? In any case the VSE makes the retirement of Shuttle by 2010 a directive not a requirement.

    The whole hearing was very much a Nelson solo performance with Hutchinson arriving late and leaving early. Nelson’s concern for ISS completion and AMS delivery seems driven primarily by his supporters at KSC wanting to fly more Shuttles.

  • al Fansome

    It is interesting that Nelson is now actively joining Hutchison in beating up on Griffin about AMS-02. Dr. Sam Ting of MIT has been doing his lobbying work.

    I am wondering when Griffin will ask Nelson & Hutchison “What do you suggest that I kick off the one of the remaining flights of the Shuttle, so that I can deliver the AMS-02?”

    – Al

  • Charles In Houston

    The retirement of the Shuttle will undoubtedly be driven by the cessation of production (you can only get away with using phrases like that here) of Shuttle components (such as External Tanks) and loss of facilities such as the OPFs. The Shuttle vehicles themselves (most of them) are certified for more flights, but the logistics that allow a Shuttle to fly are going away rapidly.



    “The Shuttle vehicles themselves (most of them) are certified for more flights”

    Just to be clear, only the orbiter airframes are certified for many more flight (100 flights each, IIRC). But there’s obviously a lot more to a Space Shuttle mission than the orbiter’s structure. And, according to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, all those other systems and components should only be flown through 2010 without a multi-billion recertification effort.


  • DocM

    They need stop the train wreck in progress called Ares and fly direct launcher instead as it can make use of the same facilities as the shuttle.
    The ares I rocket is the biggest waste of money in the history of nasa as it only replicates at higher cost capabilities that already exist in the EELVs and soon falcon 9 and a handful of other private launch vehicles.
    Ares I has placed so many limitations on Orion there is less and less reason to build it as many private spacecraft will meet or even exceed it’s capabilities including being able to travel to the moon two vehicles officially can perform lunar missions Dragon and spacedev’s HL20 based vehicle
    also dragon can carry a lot more cargo then Orion over 5000lbs..
    Also why they never restarted the DCX program is beyond me I feel this would for a far better lunar architecture then Orion and Ares.
    We can get DCY flying for the same cost as the highly redundant Ares I and Orion vehicles.

  • […] to end the shuttle program in 2010, whether or not the space station is finished.” (See some earlier discussion on differing interpretations of this deadline.) And, they say, Bush isn’t aware his budgets are creating a five-year gap in “U.S. […]

  • Dale Loveless

    I dont get it…why would NASA want to go to a expendable (throwaway) transportation system when they have and can develop a re-usable system like the shuttle? Hell the only thing reusable on the new “CEV” is the capsule aka Apollo! And they are talking years before they get to the moon again. Hell they made it to the moon on 60’s technology, what is so difficult about it today in our digital era? It seems as if NASA doesnt have the talent and braveness they they had in their glory days! And they blow too much money. I say privatize NASA and, and we would have a new shuttle in a year and be on the moon next year! Typical government red tape.

  • Todd Carter

    It took us less time to create Apollo and get to the moon starting from scratch. And now NASA wants to reuse the old technology to go back but can’t get us there in less time. NASA is getting Stoopid.

  • I’ve probably missed it but why are they retiring the space shuttle if anyone who works there knows.

  • I say the reason they created the space station and is retiring the shuttle after it is done is because they built it for the upper crust of the governments to escape to when the nuclear war starts. Use common sense people!

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