RTF wouldn’t have happened without the ISS – Kostelnik

by Chris Bergin

Deputy Associate Administrator for International Space Station and Space Shuttle Program Mike Kostelnik has told NASA’s Integrated Space Operations Summit that the Return to Flight (RTF) of the Shuttle wouldn’t have happened – had it not of been for the continued construction requirements of the International Space Station (ISS).

Confirming the shut down of certain manufacturing elements for the Shuttle Program, Kostelnik noted a 28 flight mandate that will take the three Orbiters into a 2010 retirement.
Following RTF test flights STS-114 (Discovery) and STS-121 (Atlantis) this year, NASA hopes to launch the Shuttle five times a year from 2006, finish the ISS, before moving on to a replacement vehicle – currently called the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).
The CEV – although doubtful to be near operational capacity by 2010 – is tasked with a diverse mandate of operations, with a potential to work in Low Earth Orbit, while also having the ability to transport astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
First launched in 1981, the Space Shuttle could potentially continue operations long past 2010, but NASA appears set on simply using the fleet to fulfil commitments to the ISS and then retire the Orbiters. Had it of not been for the ISS, NASA say the Shuttle program would have ended with the loss of Columbia – and her crew of seven astronauts – in 2003.
“If we did not have the ISS on orbit today we would not be returning (the Shuttle fleet) to flight,” said Kostelnik, “but rather dedicating resources to next generation of exploration.”
Steps have already been taken in a phased shutdown of the supporting contracts that are central to the Shuttle Program.
NASA is ending of the contract for the supply of Al-Li used to construct the External Tank (ET) – the largest of the non-reusable elements of the Space Transportation System – with enough of the material already in stock to complete the launch mandate. No more Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) canisters will be produced for the same reason, with orders for the SRB fuel, Aluminium Perchlorate, ending in 2008.
The news comes just days before Shuttle Discovery is due to roll-out to launch pad B to prepare for RTF mission STS-114.

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