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
"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
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.