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NASA plans to carry out up to six space shuttle launches
NASA plans to carry out up to six space shuttle launches in 2008, including a flight to service the Hubble Space Telescope, a space agency official has said.

NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said the agency is also making progress in developing the Orion spacecraft and Ares launch vehicles to replace the aging shuttle fleet and prepare for journeys to the moon and beyond.

NASA also announced a $17.6 billion budget for the fiscal year 2009 to continue exploring the Solar System, as well as building the International Space Station, studying Earth from space and conducting aeronautics research.

The agency said its budget included, "$5.78 billion for the space shuttle and space station programs, $4.44 billion for science, $3.5 billion for development of new manned spacecraft systems and $447 million for aeronautics research."

Dale said NASA has 55 scientific research missions currently in space, about half involving international partnerships, with 15 additional missions scheduled for launch by the end of 2009.

"In Earth science, NASA's investments in measuring the forces and effects of climate change are allowing policymakers and the public to better understand its implications to our home planet," she said.

NASA will dedicate $910 million during the next five years to develop new missions to add to its Earth-observing fleet of spacecraft.

The official said that as the International Space Station nears completion, the NASA budget provides funding to help spur development of commercial space transportation services to send cargo and possibly crews to the station after the shuttles is withdrawn from service in 2010. Without commercial providers, the United States will depend on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry astronauts between Earth and the space station.

"While I do not like the idea that the United States may have no option other than to purchase crew transport services from Russia ... I am glad that the Russians are our partners and have such capabilities," Dale said.

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