NASA Retools As Shuttle Faces Final Countdown - InformationWeek

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NASA Retools As Shuttle Faces Final Countdown

Focus will shift from space station missions to Earth science and research into manned flights beyond the moon.

With only three more space shuttle flights remaining, NASA officials on Thursday outlined the agency's agenda for the post-shuttle era.

NASA said it plans to turn transport flights to the International Space Station over to private contractors, and focus more on research and development that could one day see humans explore beyond the moon.

NASA R&D going forward will shift to exploration technologies, heavy lift rockets, new propulsion methods and remote control systems for robotically controlled space missions.

NASA said it also will focus more on Earth observation technologies and on the development of new, environmentally-friendly aircraft.

"These assignments build on the deep knowledge and expertise that NASA has developed during five decades," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a statement. "They recognize our workforce's wealth of experience and commitment, and the specialties at the NASA field centers," said Bolden.

The shuttle program is slated to end later this year. President Obama's proposed $3.8 trillion federal budget request, released in February, also strips funding for the Constellation program, which was to see NASA return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

The President's plans for NASA have drawn heat from lawmakers in states where the space agency is a major employer.

Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, has slammed Obama's agenda, claiming it would cause the U.S. to take a back seat to other countries in terms of space research and exploration. Bailey also said the shuttle program shouldn't be scrapped until a replacement vehicle is ready.

"We must close the gap in U.S. human space flight or face the reality that we will be totally dependent on Russia for access to space until the next generation of space vehicle is developed," said Hutchison, in a recent statement.

"If the space shuttle program is terminated, Russia and China will be the only nations in the world with the capability to launch humans into space. This is unacceptable," said Hutchison.

Hutchison has introduced a bill that would give the shuttle program a reprieve until NASA develops a replacement and extend the life of the International Space Station through 2020. The bill also calls for the U.S. government to develop a new space vehicle for human flight by 2015.

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