It seems that NASA may have a bit of a problem on its hands. The planned retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2010 may be in jeopardy because of geopolitical problems beyond NASA’s control. Like a bit of aggression by Russia in Georgia.
CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has ordered his top officials to study how the agency could fly the space shuttle beyond its planned retirement in 2010, according to an internal e-mail obtained by the Orlando Sentinel.
The decision signals what could be a huge change in NASA policy. Griffin has steadfastly opposed extending the shuttle era beyond its 2010 retirement date, arguing it could kill astronauts and cripple the agency’s fledgling Constellation program, a system of new rockets and capsules meant to replace the shuttle.
But geopolitics and political pressure are undermining his position.
The Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia has chilled relations between Washington and Moscow. The incursion has threatened NASA’s carefully laid plans to rely on Russian spaceships to ferry astronauts to the international space station during the years between the shuttle’s retirement and the maiden voyage of NASA’s next generation of rocket in 2015.
Frankly, it may be a really bad idea to keep them flying, but it may be an even worse idea to trust Russia at this point. It is best to keep something in reserve, though, just in case. So plans should be underway to keep at least part of the shuttle fleet – such as it is – in shape to fly.