CAPE CANAVERAL - The coming
year is going to be a full one on Florida's Space Coast.
There will be a
construction boom that will triple the size of the International Space Station.
Then there are the missions
to Mercury, the moon and Mars.
There will be 16 rocket
In addition, there will be
a half-dozen NASA shuttle flights, including a fifth and final servicing call
on the Hubble Space
If all the scheduled shuttle
launches occur this year, they would be at a rate not seen since before the 2003 Columbia accident.
"We have an ambitious
goal ahead of us," NASA shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said. "But
I believe it's achievable."
Here are five big space
stories to be looking for in 2008:
NASA bound for planetary
spacecraft will make the first flyby of Mercury in more than 30 years on
Jan. 14, cruising within 125 miles of the planet's surface. It will be the
first of three close passes the spacecraft will make before dropping into orbit
around the planet in 2011.
NASA's Phoenix lander is
slated to touch down on Mars in late May, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
-- a spacecraft that will search for suitable moon base sites -- will blast off
in late October.
Hubble huggers head for
Seven astronauts will
launch in August on a mission to outfit the Hubble telescope with new science
instruments and equipment that will keep the 17-year-old observatory operating
It might be the final
flight of Atlantis, although NASA is considering an option to keep the orbiter
flying until the shuttle program ends in 2010.
Endeavour at the same time
will be poised to launch a rescue mission should an emergency crop up during the
The observatory is in a
different orbit than the space station, so the astronauts would not be able to
seek safe haven there if their spaceship suffers serious damage.
President Bush in 2004
directed NASA to finish the station and retire its shuttle fleet in 2010, field
a new spaceship by 2014 and send U.S. astronauts back to the moon by 2020.
A new administration will
take office in January 2009, and NASA may or may not get new marching orders.
Next month, the Republican
and Democratic parties both will hold presidential primaries in Florida. Local
political leaders are pressing the candidates to detail their
plans for NASA.
"The only candidate
with any kind of substantial space policy on their Web site is Hillary"
Rodham Clinton, said U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.)
The Clinton policy calls
for NASA to complete the station and speed development of the Ares 1 rockets
and Orion spacecraft that will replace the shuttle. It also says Clinton
"will not allow a repeat of the 'brain drain' that occurred between the
Apollo and shuttle missions."
Weldon said Republican
candidates should address the issues, which are critical to many voters at the
east end of the politically important Interstate 4 corridor.
"They need to wake up
and smell the coffee," Weldon said.
Hear the rockets roar
United Launch Alliance
plans 16 Atlas and Delta rocket launches at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
next year. Six Delta 2 rockets, four Delta 4 rockets and six Atlas 5 rockets
are to be sent aloft.
SpaceX, a newcomer from
California, also plans debut launches
from Launch Complex 40, a former Titan pad.
Founded by Internet
entrepreneur Elon Musk, the company is planning two demonstration flights of
its Falcon 9 rocket in late 2008.
The company aims to prove
it can provide safe and reliable commercial freight and crew transport services
to the station after the shuttle fleet is retired.
The grand station
NASA is planning five station
assembly flights, missions aimed at delivering European and Japanese
science labs and at completing its central truss.
Spacewalking repairs on a
fouled-up solar wing rotary joint will be required to produce enough
electricity for the labs, and the station will be stocked so crews can be expanded
from three to six in 2009.
"I would tell you that
next year is largely about bringing our international partners to orbit
finally," said NASA station program manager Mike Suffredini. "And the
next phase is to get ourselves ready for a six-person crew."
The United States and
Russia linked the first two station building blocks in late 1998, and the $100
billion outpost now is about 60 percent complete.
If all goes well, NASA
would have a real chance to complete construction of the station -- a project
that involves 100,000 people from 15 nations on four continents -- as scheduled
NASA space operations chief
Bill Gerstenmaier said, "It's going to be a great time for the space
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