August 12, 2008 - 10:41AM
NASA has abandoned plans to get its replacement for the retiring US space shuttles into service by 2013 because of a lack of additional funds and technical issues, officials said.
The US space agency had hoped to fly astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a new spaceship called Orion as early as September 2013, well before its formal deadline or goal of March 2015.
"The window of opportunity for us to accelerate Orion has closed," program manager Jeff Hanley at NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston said.
The United States will be without a means to transport people to and from space after the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010 until the new ships are ready to fly.
It intends to rely on Russia to ferry crews to the space station and on private companies to deliver cargo during the gap.
NASA had hoped to minimise the gap, but additional funding to do so has not been approved by the US Congress.
The agency now hopes to be able to fly an Orion crew to the International Space Station by September 2014.
The delay will force NASA to renegotiate several contracts with companies developing equipment and providing services under the Constellation program, which has the overall goal of landing astronauts on the moon by 2020.
Prime contractors include Lockheed Martin Corp, which is developing the Orion spacecraft, Alliant Techsystems' ATK Launch Systems, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a United Technologies company that is working on new rockets.
Also involved are Oceaneering International, which is developing new spacesuits, and SGT, which is providing support services.
In 1961, JFK announced the goal of a manned landing on the moon. It took eight years, with 1960s technology. The Space Shuttle has been flying since the early 1980s, with no real indication of what will replace it (especially since two have been destroyed in accidents and one - Enterprise - never flew in space). Now, in 2008, NASA says it will take seven more years to develop a ship to merely reach Earth orbit. George Bush had announced the programme in 2004 with a 2008 completion goal; now we must wait at least another seven years. And the ship in question, Orion, is simply a much-modernized and enlarged Apollo capsule - new wine in old wineskins. Meanwhile, in the very same year as that programme was announced, a private company won a prize for demonstrating the ability to put a reusable manned ship into space (100km+) twice within a fortnight without Government funding.
And now the United States will be dependent upon Russia for its launch vehicles until Orion is complete. Even twenty years ago, that would have been utterly unacceptable, and forty years ago it would have got the NASA director handed their own head on a plate. What the fuck is going on here?