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NASA Says Orion Will Be Delayed Due To Lack Of Funds

First Flight Now Scheduled For 2015 At Earliest

This hasn't been a great week for NASA. Less than 48 hours after the space agency was forced to pull the space shuttle Atlantis back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to check on the extent of damage from a strong hailstorm at the launch pad, agency Administrator Michael Griffin told lawmakers the shuttle's replacement won't fly as soon as originally hoped.

Griffin told the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday a $545 million difference in funding authorized between President Bush's budget request for NASA this year, and the money Congress included in a funding bill signed by the President this week, will keep the agency's next-generation Orion space capsule earthbound until early 2015.

"We simply do not have the money available," Griffin said, reports the Associated Press. "The net result of the decrease will be a four- to six-month delay of the Orion crew vehicle."

With the shuttle still due to be retired in 2010, that will leave the agency without a manned space vehicle for the longest period since the end of the Apollo program in 1975, and the space shuttle's first flight in 1981. It will also result in a delay in NASA's timetable to return to the moon.

Griffin says the delay raises far more important matters, than just national pride.

"I'm not worried about the moon right now," Griffin said. "I'm worried about replacing the shuttle."

"When you don't fly for four or more years, people become stale ... facilities degrade. It's not a good thing," he added. "Our human spaceflight expertise will be depleted to a certain extent."

And as NASA is stuck on Earth, Griffin noted, other countries -- China, in particular -- will be sending their own crews into orbit, and possible beyond.

"For the United States not to be among [those nations] is tragic," he said. "The US will be in a position of purchasing crew and cargo services from other countries."

If there is any bright side here, it is that NASA already has plans in place to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules, after the shuttle is retired. Those missions will fly crews to the International Space Station.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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