Los Angeles, CA, July 11, 2005 – In anticipation of this week’s planned return to flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery, the Space Frontier Foundation renewed its call for the orbiters to be retired. The Foundation, which for over 15 years has criticized the Shuttle system as too costly, urged NASA and the Congress to announce a firm date when the last orbiter will fly.
“If it were up to us the shuttle would never have flown in the first place,” said the Foundation’s Rick Tumlinson. “Far from opening space to the American people, it has weighed down our space program with its bloated budgets and massive support network. Its time is passed. We should shut down the program as soon as possible, before more money gets wasted.”
The Foundation understands that the space agency is trapped by its need to complete assembly of the International Space Station with our partners in Europe, Russia, Japan, and Canada, and this means flying the shuttles perhaps a dozen or more times. (Many station components were designed to fly on the shuttle alone.) But the citizen’s group wants NASA to name a date certain when the last orbiter will fly so that a transition can be planned to other methods of reaching orbit, preferably based on private sector firms flying people and payloads as part of a new free-enterprise space transportation marketplace.
Said Tumlinson: “The U.S. government got itself into a huge mess with the space station and shuttle system, and now it is digging its way out. But those who are insisting the orbiters keep flying right up until new systems are in place will in fact be burying our hopes of advancing to anything new – no matter what those are. Pouring billions into the space shuttles rips off the taxpayers – and betrays NASA’s hardworking employees – by feeding a dying beast, while simultaneously starving a newborn industry and NASA’s future exploration efforts.”
The Foundation points out that a fraction of the money going into the current system would launch a whole new space transportation marketplace that could serve both the government and new space industries. They believe there are private firms who could take over the job now being done by the orbiters, if some certainty can be created as to the timing and type of hand-off. They also endorse recent moves by new NASA administrator Mike Griffin to use commercial-type contracting methods to buy delivery services for ISS re-supply, and explore innovative partnerships to enable lower-cost human access to ISS or commercial space stations.
Tumlinson concluded: “The space station can be re-supplied by commercial firms, and given the proper encouragement and new ways of contracting, they will also be able to carry crews to and from the facility. It’s going to take a few years to get these new systems and companies “off the ground” but we have to set the deadline now, so money can be raised, business plans funded, and rocketships flown. Frankly, even NASA’s own workforce needs to be able to plan for a firm deadline, so they can transition to new projects at NASA, or to these new commercial companies.”
“The bottom line is that we agree with the courageous new leaders at NASA: When it comes to flying people or cargo into space on the outdated and costly Shuttle system – let it end by 2010 – or even sooner.”