Florida senator says shuttle likely to fly next year
May 28, 2010
ORLANDO - Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told President Obama that NASA should plan on flying the Space Shuttle Atlantis one more time, because lawmakers are intending to fund an extra mission to the International Space Station. Later today, Nelson will be in his Orlando regional office and available to talk about the plan.
“Adding this mission,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Obama on Wednesday, “will allow us to more smoothly transition the workforce in Florida and Texas from the space shuttle program. It will also guarantee U.S. access to space for a longer period of time, and thereby help to close the spaceflight gap until new domestic capability is provided.”
As of now, NASA has two remaining shuttle missions, planned for September and November. Atlantis, which just returned from a 12-day mission, will be refurbished to serve as the emergency rescue or “launch on need” ship in case of a serious problem with one of NASA's final planned shuttle flights.
Nelson said he and other senators want to convert the "launch on need" mission to a third and final shuttle flight. He said the mission would ferry spare parts and other cargo to the space station to help extend its life to 2020.
The expendable external fuel tank already is in place to fly one more mission. But that plan would require more funding to retain space shuttle workers for longer than currently planned. It costs NASA about $200 million a month to keep its space shuttle program running. Nelson told the president it’s his intention to include language authorizing the flight in a spending bill for NASA, which Congress will be working on in June.