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Loophole in NASA Authorization Bill may keep shuttle flying

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PJay_A

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I just read the complete text of the NASA Authoriation bill that was recently passed by congress and signed by the President. One clause stuck out as a possible loophole that could be used to keep the shuttles flying beyond STS-135. Read this clause carefully:

(1) DEVELOPMENT OF FOLLOW-ON SPACE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS- The Administrator shall proceed with the development of follow-on space transportation systems in a manner that ensures that the national capability to restart and fly Space Shuttle missions can be initiated if required by the Congress, in an Act enacted after the date of enactment of this Act, or by a Presidential determination transmitted to the Congress, before the last Space Shuttle mission authorized by this Act is completed.

So, what it basically says is that NASA must keep the shuttle fleet in a 'ready state' through the last planned shuttle mission (STS-135?) and if the President (by decree) or the Congress (by act) decides that they should continue flying, NASA must start the program back up and begin planning new flights as part of a program extension.

My opinion is if additional flights are needed and they are deemed safe, NASA should keep Endevour and a refurbished Discovery in service while retiring Atlantis and fly one mission per orbiter a year or untill new human rated launch systems are ready for service. I think Congress may try to legislate something like this within the timeframe mentioned in the clause above.

What do you all think?
 
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trailrider

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"(1) DEVELOPMENT OF FOLLOW-ON SPACE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS- The Administrator shall proceed with the development of follow-on space transportation systems in a manner that ensures that the national capability to restart and fly Space Shuttle missions can be initiated if required by the Congress, in an Act enacted after the date of enactment of this Act, or by a Presidential determination transmitted to the Congress, before the last Space Shuttle mission authorized by this Act is completed."

This is just vague enough to imply what you think it does! The hitch in the gitalong is the last part, "before the last Space Shuttle mission authorized by this Act is completed." If you go through the rest of the Act, it also states that the last Shuttle mission MUST be completed by 30 September 2011. So, an extention Act must be passed prior to that date! On top of that, there must be funding approved in addition to the Authorization for 2010, as well as for an additional Act.

Another interpretation might be that the three orbiters MUST be mothballed in such a way that they could be returned to flight status...again, if the funding is available. And, then you've got to find and re-hire the personnel who have worked on the Shuttle. Also, Pad 39A must be maintained, possibly indefinitely. And there are no more ET's in work or in storage. They would have to be fabricated, which means re-assembling the tooling, which has apparently been cleared away, though NOT destroyed as might have happened had not pressure been brought to bear by Congress to prevent destruction of the ET tooling. This is most fortunate, because several of the candidate HLV designs utilize the 8.3 m diameter tankage that can be fabricated using the Shuttle ET tooling, suitably modified.

Hopefully, Congress will fund the 2010 Authorization Act, whatever interpretation can be put on it. That doesn't look likely to happen in the "lame duck" session, and with the budget-cutting that may come about when the new Congress convenes, who knows...
 
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