As the 2010 retirement date for the space shuttle looms, it’s not surprising that some people want to keep the shuttle flying for at least a little bit longer. The Orlando Sentinel reports today that some members of Congress are prepared to take legislative steps to extend the shuttle’s life. A group of Texas members of Congress, led by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, are preparing legislation that would require NASA to add another shuttle mission to launch the AMS. According to the article, 32 members of Texas’ congressional delegation—all but two of its members—signed a letter sent to President Bush last month asking him support their cause; the members also met with NASA Administrator Mike Griffin to try and convince him to add the AMS to the shuttle manifest. “We didn’t leave with everyone jumping up and down and cheering,” admitted Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX). “We think that he’s under a good bit of pressure to not fly the shuttle after 2010. There’s a lot of money involved.” (Indeed.)
Also, Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) is proposing legislation that would require NASA to keep the shuttle flying until a replacement system is ready to fly—a move that would require a huge increase in the NASA budget, and also raise questions about the safety of the aging shuttle fleet. “We just don’t believe there should be a gap,” Weldon’s spokesman, Jeremy Steffens, told the Sentinel, adding that Weldon’s legislation would address safety issues and recertification of the shuttle fleet, a recommendation made by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board if the shuttle was to continue flying after 2010.
Not surprisingly, Griffin isn’t fond of any proposals to extend the shuttle’s life. “If you keep flying the shuttle… you will never finish [Constellation] on the money that we have,” he told the paper. From a technical standpoint, he added, “It is difficult to envision flying much past 2010.” Some in Congress, though, appear willing to try.