Bush Signs Bill Authorizing Extra Shuttle Flight

President Bush has signed an authorization bill that will extend the life of the space shuttle by one flight, and speed development of the next generation of space ships that will take Americans back to the moon. Congress still has to approve funding for it though, as Jim Bell reports.

NASA was planning just ten more shuttle flights to the International Space Station before retiring the old work horse vehicle in 2010. The bill signed by the President authorizes an extra mission in 2010 to take the $1.6 billion dollar Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer Observatory to the station. 

Johnson Space Center spokesman Kyle Herring:

"So these are critical spares for the International Space Station, which, you know obviously, is a science laboratory that we would like to fly at least out to 2015, maybe even 2020 now, and that's part of the funding for the out-years for the International Space Station."

image of Ares boast mock up

The bill also authorizes one billion dollars to speed up work on the Orion-Ares moon ship, which will replace the shuttle and carry Americans back to the moon. That ship isn't scheduled to fly until 2015.  When the shuttles retire in 2010, the United States be without a usable space vehicle for a few years, and Herring says that means asking the Russians for a ride.

"And we always knew that we would be relying on the Russians for crew rotations to the International Space Station. We're doing it now, even with the shuttle, and we will continue to do that. image of orion module Even during the period of time after the shuttle is retired we will rely on the Soyuz space craft for crew delivery to the station and delivery back to Earth."

The extra shuttle flight, and speeding up work on Orion-Ares is contingent on Congress appropriating 20.2 billion dollars to pay for it.

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.