Thursday, October 09, 2003

NASA Is Speeding Work on Space Plane

The Orbital Space Plane, primarily designed to carry people, is on a fast track that could make it available as a station rescue vehicle in five years and ready to serve as a crew hauler a few years later, Mr. O'Keefe said at a news conference.

A space plane, however, would not replace the shuttle altogether, he said.

The committee that investigated the Columbia accident recommended that crews be separated from cargo in future space travel, Mr. O'Keefe noted, and the space plane would meet the crew requirement. But carrying cargo to and from the station, and perhaps beyond, requires the capability of the shuttle or other vehicles capable of lifting heavy loads.

NASA is also looking at options to transport cargo that include the shuttle, with possible modifications.

"I don't know if we are accelerating plans to retire it or accelerating plans to extend its life," Mr. O'Keefe said of the shuttle.

"For the immediate near term," he said, "there is no other option but the shuttle."

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