Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why There's No Replacement for the Space Shuttle

After the wheels of the space shuttle roll to a stop for the final time, NASA astronauts will have to rely on Russian spaceships for their rides into space until commercial American vehicles are ready to fly crews to orbit. A capsule-based spacecraft, called Orion, is also in development, but NASA's current plans are to use it primarily as an escape ship for the International Space Station.

Over the course of the shuttle program's 30-year career, NASA and its various partners explored a number of different vehicle options to succeed the space shuttles, but none were brought to fruition, said Roger Launius, space history curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, in Washington.One by one, each program ended after development plans bumped up against funding and politics – an experience familiar throughout NASA's history. "There's a whole series of factors – some of them were political, but a lot of the problems were technical," Launius said. "Could they have been solved if they had more money? Probably. So, was it a technical problem or a political problem? I could argue both sides."

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