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Most people accept that the shuttle program will be deactivated by 2010
The summer launch window for the Discovery space shuttle, set to become the first shuttle in orbit since the Columbia disaster, has shrunk to a porthole, in the words of a spokesman from Russia's flight control center. In fact, to all intents and purposes, the absence of a coherent shuttle program signals the end of the project. Most people accept that the shuttle program will be deactivated by 2010. By that time, it is planned to complete construction of the International Space Station (ISS), again using U.S. spaceships, on which the entire program was based from the start. For that purpose, when Sean O'Keefe was NASA general director, it was calculated that 28 shuttle flights would be made, which at that time seemed enough. This means that at least six launchings a year will have to be made annually in the time remaining. Such a rate is improbable, considering the present state of the Space Shuttle program. The best year for the shuttles was 1985, when nine launches took place. At that time there were four orbital stages, and now there are only three. But this is not the main thing. No sooner had new NASA manager Michel Griffin gotten used to his new office than the number of flights was reduced. Now a special commission promises to determine the final number of launches required for the ISS in September this year. If the Russian Federal Space Agency regarded the former figure as not enough, it is not even commenting on the anticipated decision. It is clear that even the previously planned number of flights was not enough. Thus, the Americans' wish to complete the construction of the ISS seems like just a "declaration of intentions." Regarding those intentions, as distinct from 1985, shuttles today are to be used only for the ISS. It has been proved that it is far less expensive to orbit space vehicles using single-mission carrier rockets, including Russian ones. Meanwhile, Griffin himself publicly expressed the attitude of the U.S. space establishment to the station on May 18. "The station is limited in its research potential," he said, which was politically correct, but left no doubts about the future. The Americans can hardly be accused of a lack of pragmatism, and it would be at least short-sighted to think that they would do everything possible to promote international partnership and make effective an idea in which they do not believe. If so, why waste time and money on the old transportation system and risk the country's image and, most importantly, the lives of America's best astronauts? After all, the modernization of, say, the Discovery has not yet been completed, so would it not be better to concentrate on designing a new spaceship? It would, and Griffin has informed senators about NASA's intention to withdraw some funds from the ISS scientific program and to spend them on developing the promising CEV research spaceship. The request from one senator to name the main aspects of research at the station met with the reply that it would be good to experiment with "hardware" and conduct scientific research. Summing up, and at the same time drawing a line under the whole of the American part of the ISS program, Griffin added that all the experimentation and research could be well done on Earth. "If we did not have a space station, we might do otherwise, but having one we look for opportunities to use it," he said. In other words, Russia is being told to believe that shuttles will fly regularly to maintain man's presence in space, because the U.S. has found no other purpose for the ISS. However, politics and many other things are involved. The most optimistic calculations show that even work on developing a CEV spaceship at the expense of the ISS program will make manned flight possible no earlier than 2014. And until then there will be pilotless vacuum
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