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Friday, July 16, 2010

Senate panel backs space shuttle extension

NASA bill would boost big-rocket project, slow down commercialization

A key Senate committee on Thursday approved an authorization bill that would allow NASA to add one more space shuttle mission before retiring the fleet, and press forward with ambitious plans to send astronauts to an asteroid and on to Mars.
After months of debate and criticism, the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed the NASA authorization bill by a unanimous vote. The bill will now move up to the full Senate for review.
"NASA is an agency in transition. We've had to take a clear, hard look at what we want from our space agency in the years and decades to come," committee chairman John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said in a statement. "I've made my views on this matter very clear: NASA's role cannot stay static. It must innovate and move in a new direction."
The extra shuttle mission would fly in 2011, after two more flights currently planned for November 2010 and February 2011.
In addition, the new authorization bill directs NASA to begin work immediately on a huge, heavy-lift rocket — which would be vital for any asteroid or Mars missions by astronauts — instead of waiting until 2015 as proposed by President Barack Obama in the space vision he announced earlier this year.
The bill would also advance the development of spacecraft for deep space missions to as early as 2016, rather than 2025 — the goal that Obama set for the first crewed mission to arrive at an asteroid.
It also allows the extension of the International Space Station's program through at least 2020, as Obama previously proposed.
The external fuel tank for the shuttle Endeavour's launch, scheduled for no earlier than Feb. 26, arrives at the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday. Endeavour's mission is the last shuttle flight currently on NASA's schedule, but a bill approved by a key Senate panel would provide for one more flight in mid-2011.

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