Last Shuttle Flight Jan. 2011

March 26th, 2010

From Florida Today

NASA will probably miss its goal to retire the shuttle fleet this year, with the final launch likely to slip to January 2011, the space agency’s inspector general reported Thursday.

But shuttle managers are hustling to meet the current flight schedule, and they expect to spend up to $54 million on overtime to try to meet the September schedule – far less than the $200 million a month they would need to sustain shuttle operations into 2011, the report found.

Four shuttle flights remain, under a retirement schedule set in 2004 after the Columbia disaster.

NASA officials initially said the final shuttle flight would take place by Sept. 30, 2010, and it remains on the launch schedule for Sept. 16. More recently in budget documents, they said it would take place by the end of 2010.

But in a 32-page report released Thursday, Inspector General Paul Martin said both estimates are unrealistic.

President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget includes $600 million to cover flights through December. Flights beyond that would need additional funding.

“It is the intent of the (space shuttle program) to complete the manifest without any sacrifice to safety or mission success,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for space operations, wrote in a letter responding to Martin’s report.

Originally, NASA’s inspector general had used projections that the final flight might not happen until next March.

“However, given that the last four shuttle flights all launched within the schedule margins, our analysis now predicts that the last of the four remaining shuttle flights will launch in January 2011,” Martin wrote in his report.

After the shuttle’s retirement, NASA plans to ferry people to the International Space Station aboard Russian rockets until the next American rocket is developed. Obama has proposed relying on commercial rockets to reach the space station when they become available.

His budget proposal would cancel NASA’s Constellation program to develop an Ares rocket. But many in Congress want the program to continue.

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