The outside panel examining NASA's human-spaceflight plans for President Barack Obama foresees a much bigger gap in the U.S. ability to send its astronauts into space after the space shuttle fleet retires than the space agency targets with its current plan, and has gone back to basics in its searching for alternatives.
While NASA hopes to start flying its Ares I crew launch vehicle with a piloted Orion capsule on top by March 2015 - leaving a five-year gap - a quick-look study by The Aerospace Corp. finds that date could slip as late as 2019 at current spending levels, which all agree are woefully inadequate.
Aerospace did the study for the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, headed by retired Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine. The California think tank doesn't expect the five-year figure to shrink much using some of the alternative launch vehicles it has studied for Augustine's panel (AW&ST July 6, p. 46).
"We don't believe the other options reduce the gap from the right very much," says former astronaut Sally Ride, a panel member who presented some of the Aerospace findings. "You might get a year, a year and a half."
oh good grief.