Every STS launch a test flight – Griffin

by Chris Bergin

NASA administrator Mike Griffin – speaking the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics conference – stated that all remaining Space Shuttle missions should be regarded as test flights.

The conference, which has been looking through the latest ideas and designs for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) and Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV), touched upon the latest plans for taking NASA up to the point when the fleet are retired.

Currently employing an ‘unworkable’ 28 flight mandate until the 2010 retirement date, talks have been ongoing with international partners on the affect a large reduction in launch manifest will have on the construction of the International Space Station – the remaining task of the fleet.

Griffin did give a mention to his viewpoint on STS-114 – which saw Discovery become the first Orbiter to fly since the loss of Columbia on STS-107 two and a half years ago. While the mission was a success, the media latched upon continuing issues with foam liberation from the External Tank, leading to a requirement for modifications to take place over the coming months at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Clearly, there remains much to learn about eliminating debris from the Shuttle’s External Tank,” he said, “But overall, in my opinion, it was a superbly executed test flight, and it furnished us with our first real data in connection with our efforts to improve the design of the External Tank.”

Griffin also said he did not rule out a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope – which would have to be undertaken in 2008, before the batteries start to die on board the popular telescope.

“If feasible, NASA would conduct a mission to service Hubble,” he added.

While hardly surprising, Griffin did noted that the new fleet of space vehicles NASA is working on will have far great capabilities than the current Space Shuttle fleet – a comment aimed at the major restriction of the Orbiters, that of being unable to travel past Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

“We seek the ability to land and conduct exploration activities anywhere on the moon, including on the far side or in the polar regions,” he added. “In our planning, we want to ensure that we are designing systems with the maximum possible applicability to future missions to Mars.”

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