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  • Opening Negotiations
    Posted by Frank Morring, Jr. 4:35 PM on Feb 06, 2010

    NASA will allow its international partners into the "critical path" for human exploration, and try to fly a heavy lift launch vehicle that can enable exploration beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) by 2030, according to Administrator Charles Bolden.

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    Briefing reporters waiting at Kennedy Space Center for the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station, Bolden conceded that he must negotiate details of the abrupt shift in U.S. space policy with Congress as it tackles the U.S. space agency's fiscal 2011 budget request. Going into those negotiations, he said it may be possible to preserve many of the jobs on the Constellation Program of human exploration that the budget request abandons to begin work on a new and more capable line of vehicles down the road.
    It may also be possible to preserve some of the jobs to be lost at Kennedy when the shuttle retires and Constellation is dropped, by encouraging the private companies the Obama Administration hopes will take over human transportation to LEO to move assembly and even production to the Florida field center.
    "We have an incredible amount of infrastructure that can be used here," he said. "We don't want to build more infrastructure."
    Among those ground facilities is the massive Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) that was originally build in the 1960s to stack the Saturn V moon rocket, and later modified to handle shuttle stacking. NASA already is considering "modularizing" the VAB to handle different commercial vehicles in each of its four towering high bays, Bolden said.
    The new plan for NASA has met stiff opposition from members of Congress whose constituents may lose their jobs under its provisions. Launch managers at Kennedy concede the "shock" of the abrupt change in direction for the agency is a "distraction" for the workers preparing to launch Endeavour at 4:39 a.m. EST Sunday, but they vow their crews will remain focused on the exacting task at hand.
    Bolden said there may be more launch business at Kennedy under the new program, as NASA uses existing rockets to test components like escape systems and crew modules for commercial operators, and tests the new commercial rockets themselves. He also left open the possibility, raised by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), of using the Ares I vehicle under development as a flying testbed for some of those components.
    Under the Constellation Program it was a matter of U.S. national policy to retain control over the critical path of human space transportation from the surface of the Earth to the surface of the Moon, with an architecture that the human-spaceflight review panel found was underfunded by about $3 billion a year. Bolden said the new approach will be to share the load among the spacefaring nations of the world, starting with the ISS partnership.
    "We want to establish partnerships so that we all believe that when one succeeds, we all succeed," he said. " ... They will put up an appropriate portion of the funding according to what they do."
    Once tonight's scheduled STS-130 mission gets underway, there will be only four more space shuttle flights scheduled. After that U.S. astronauts and all of their partners will rely on Russian Soyuz capsule to reach the ISS, "unless we become incredibly as aligned with the Chinese, Bolden said. Because of the need for redundant access to the station, as demonstrated after the Columbia accident seven years ago, the sooner a commercial route to the ISS can be found, the better.
    "After the shuttle there will only be Shenzhou and Soyuz," Bolden said. "The only ones I'm talking to now are the people who fly Soyuz."

    Tags: os99, Bolden, international, budget, STS130, Endeavour, ISS

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