In an attempt to shorten the gap between the end of the Space Shuttle and the deployment of its replacement, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) has introduced a bill that would extend the life of the Shuttle by two years. The bill directly contradicts the White House’s space policy, which favors a rapid decommissioning of the Shuttle, followed by an emphasis on the private sector to maintain support of the International Space Station (ISS).
The bill, called the Human Space Flight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act, costs $1.3 billion more than Obama’s $19 million plan, and also calls for any replacement vehicle to have the same cargo and crew capacity as the Shuttle.
Unfortunately, some feel that both proposals fail to understand some of the key realities in the US space program.
According to Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute, Hutchison’s plan is actually impossible, as the industrial infrastructure for supporting the Shuttle beyond another year no longer exists. Additionally, requesting Shuttle-sized cargo and crew capacity for the replacement vehicle, as the bill does, actually hampers the return of human space flight, since no agency or company is interested in producing another spacecraft so large.
However, Pace also believes that the White House plan misses the mark, and that its emphasis on the private sector and technology development as a replacement for Shuttle service to the ISS bets the future of manned space flight on high risk ventures.
Said Pace, “I think people of good will are trying to find a way forward, but there aren’t a lot of good options.”