Chair Force Engineer

Monday, September 01, 2008

Point of Know Return

Wayne Hale, perhaps the best manager in the shuttle program's turbulent history, draws a line in the sand for the shuttle. He correctly points out that the shuttle supply chain is being dismantled, and an indefinite extension is not in the cards. His tone is that the shuttle program will end in 2010 as scheduled, but I do see some small space for wiggling.

The next president, whoever he will be, will almost certainly want to add more flights to the shuttle manifest. The Obama space policy calls for an additional mission to fly the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. John McCain has joined with other senators in asking the White House to halt the dismantlement of shuttle facilities and suppliers.

The biggest issue that NASA faces in assessing the prospects of extending the shuttle past 2010 is looking at critical parts and facilities which will be difficult or impossible to replace. Once the shuttle program has identified critical parts that are out of production, the quantity of these parts will likely dictate how many shuttle flights can be attempted without the need to find new vendors or perform a lengthy program-wide re certification (as called for by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.)

Putting a hold on the actions to shut the shuttle down is prudent for the time being. The next president should be able to enter office with all options open. NASA should seriously study what it will take to keep the shuttle going (an action that's probably going on as we speak.) While NASA management views a shuttle extension as a threat to Ares (which it is,) the 44th president deserves honest and detailed information for making a policy decision. Based on what I've read, it would seem that NASA could probably add a couple of shuttle missions in FY2011 based on the spares on-hand, but going any longer past that would be very dicey.