WASHINGTON House lawmakers have introduced legislation
authorizing three additional space shuttle flights before the fleet's scheduled
2010 retirement, including the launch of a science probe removed from the
manifest after the 2003 Columbia accident.
The proposed NASA
Authorization Act of 2008 designates $150 million for a space shuttle flight to
deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) to the International Space
Station in 2010.
Two other flights that
NASA already has budgeted for and placed on its manifest as contingencies while
awaiting White House approval would become part of the official manifest under
the bill introduced last week by Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the
House Science and Technology space and aeronautics subcommittee, ranking
minority member Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.), and Reps. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) and
Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).
The Senate Commerce
Committee has not yet introduced its version of the bill, and Congress still
must appropriate the money needed to add the shuttle mission to deliver the
The AMS is a U.S.
Department of Energy-led experiment, with 16 international partners, to measure
charged particles outside Earth's atmosphere. NASA agreed in 1995 to launch AMS
aboard a space shuttle to the space station, but constraints resulting from the Columbia accident, including a
two-and-a-half year suspension of flights, pushed AMS off the manifest.
The experiment has wide
support from members of Congress, who frequently have asked NASA to try and
find a way to fit AMS in. In the bill that funded NASA for this year, Congress
directed the agency to study the matter.
NASA responded in a
February report to the House and Senate appropriations committees that the two
contingency flights are fully loaded with large spare parts that only the
shuttle can transport to the space station. Adding a space shuttle flight in
2010 would cost between $300 million and $400 million, the report said, and
keeping the space shuttle flying in 2011 would cost between $2.7 billion and $4
"In summary, the
existing space shuttle flight schedule, and potentially up to two contingency
logistics flights, may be achievable before the [space shuttle's September]
2010 retirement. However, the program does not have a significant amount of
margin to accommodate an additional flight for AMS without significant impacts
to future exploration goals, cost, and possibly safety," the report said.
The authorization bill
sets a $19.2 billion NASA budget for 2009, a $1.9 million increase over 2008.
In addition to that figure, the bill seeks $1 billion to accelerate NASA's
space shuttle replacement vehicles: the Orion crew capsule and Ares
1 rocket. NASA officials have said they could speed development of those
vehicles by about two years to 2013 with an additional $2 billion.
The bill also extends the
possibility of U.S. participation in the international space station for four additional
years by directing NASA to "take no steps" that would prevent the United States from utilizing the space station after 2016.