Monday, January 12, 2009

America's mission to Moon faces bumpy ride

Jacqui Goddard
The Scotsman

AMERICA'S plans for manned missions to the Moon are set for a shake-up that could make or break the country's lead in the space race – and bring new risks.

Dr Michael Griffin, appointed to lead NASA four years ago, is expected to step down Friday after the incoming Barack Obama failed to renew his tenure.

The removal of the 59-year-old rocket engineer – credited purpose to Nasa after the Columbia disaster of 2003, in which seven astronauts died – paves the way for potential changes to Constellation, the programme by which humans will again step on to the Moon and venture beyond to Mars using new spaceships.

But extending the life of the shuttle to close the gap between its planned retirement next year and the launch of its replacement in 2015, an option Mr Obama has proposed, would cost an extra $3 billion a year and vastly raise the chances of another deadly accident, Dr Griffin has warned.

Flying the shuttle twice a year from 2011 to 2015 would pose "about a one-in-eight chance of losing another crew on one of those ten flights", he told a meeting of the Space Transportation Association. "It can be done. Whether it should be done is another question," he said.

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