CAPE CANAVERAL -- The U.S. Senate Budget Committee passed a spending plan Thursday that would keep NASA's shuttle fleet flying through 2011 and eliminate a fixed retirement date that could create "dangerous scheduling pressures" like those that led to the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia disasters.
The provision, included in the committee's version of the fiscal year 2010 budget, would provide NASA with an additional $2.5 billion to fly shuttle missions in 2011, while fully funding the development of next-generation Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft.
The spending provision is an initial -- but major -- legislative hurdle. The budget still must be passed by the full Senate and the House, and it must be signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Senator Bill Nelson adds:
"This decision today in the Senate sends a strong signal that the shuttle should not be retired on a date-certain -- but only when the space station can be safely completed," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, who requested the spending provision.
NASA is "not going to be able to fly nine missions in a year-and-a-half, nor should they," said Nelson, a Melbourne native who flew a shuttle mission aboard Columbia that landed just 10 days before the Challenger explosion.
A positive move is the 3,500 space related jobs will be around a little bit longer.
Extending shuttle fleet operations for an additional year would stall an estimated 3,500 job cuts at Kennedy Space Center and help close an anticipated five-year gap between shuttle fleet retirement and the first piloted flights of the orbiter's replacement.