CEV priorities highlighted by new NASA head

by Chris Bergin

The Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) – replacement for the Shuttle fleet – has been thrown back into focus by the new NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin, as he used his confirmation hearing with US politicians to call for a vastly reduced transitional period between the Shuttle retirement and a man-rated CEV.

The $15 billion CEV is tasked with a diverse set of operational mandates, including LEO missions to the International Space Station (ISS), while also having the ability to progress President Bush’s ‘Vision of Space Exploration’ by transporting astronauts to the Moon and Mars.
Griffin outlined his vision for the agency when presenting his views to the Senate Commerce Committee Confirmation Hearing, noting he will be aiming for the three remaining Space Shuttles to reach retirement no later than 2010.
This would see a four year gap between the end of the Shuttle program and the current year of CEV employment in 2014. Griffin has no intention of such a long hiatus in manned space flight.
Presenting his first three points, Griffin stated “Flying the Shuttle as safely as possible until its retirement, not later than 2010. Bringing a new Crew Exploration Vehicle into service as soon as possible after Shuttle retirement, and Developing a balanced overall program of science, exploration, and aeronautics at NASA, consistent with the redirection of the human spaceflight program to focus on exploration. 2014 is too far out.”
The Shuttle is currently set to complete its lifespan with a 28-mission mandate, mainly to complete the construction of the ISS – although a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission has been put back into focus as a possible addition to the final years of Orbiter missions.

Teams led by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman both have contracts worth around $1 billion to construct a technology demonstrator CEV – with a ‘fly-off’ against each other due in 2008 before the winner is awarded the full contract to build the new vehicle. Proposals from both teams are due on May 2.

The need to reduce the gap between the implementation of the CEV after the retirement of the Shuttle drew parallels from Griffin, as he reminisced on the problems caused by the gap between the Apollo program and the launch of Shuttle Columbia on STS-1 – a gap of six years.

“I lived through the period from 1975 through ’81 when we weren’t flying any more Apollo missions and were flying shuttle missions,” he noted.

“Although I didn’t work on Apollo and didn’t work on shuttle, I, of course, was in the space program, and the dislocations from that period rippled. There was no one left untouched. That is part of the reason why I think that it is a major priority today to reduce that gap.”

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