Mandatory Shuttle Retirement Temporarily Postponed
Lawmakers extend the space shuttle program's retirement deadline from 2010 to 2011 in a budget vote that may or may not survive a final reconciliation vote. Neither NASA nor the White House is seeking the delay.Congress agreed April 29 to continue to keep the space shuttle flying until 2011. Originally the shuttle program was scheduled for a 2010 retirement, but lawmakers approved the extension along with an additional $2.5 billion in operational funding as part of the House and Senate conference agreement on the $3.4 trillion budget resolution. A final vote on the budget is still to come and the shuttle extension may or may not survive. Former President Bush ordered the 2010 retirement of the shuttle fleet in the aftermath of the 2003 Columbia disaster. The deadline was necessary to meet the schedule of the Constellation program that aims to develop a replacement shuttle fleet and return astronauts to the moon. The first manned launch of the program is scheduled for March 2015.
NASA, meanwhile, is racing to complete its remaining nine missions. Eight of the missions are to complete construction of the International Space Station while the ninth is a scheduled May 11 launch to the Hubble Space Telescope. In the interim between the end of the shuttle program and the first launch of the Constellation program, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be used to shuttle supplies and astronauts to the Space Station.