June 6, 2011

Last Chance to Assure ISS Survival - Call Congress Today, Pass the Word

Endeavour STS-134 on the pad
Photo credit Art Harman
The final shuttle launches have been primarily used to stock up the space station with critical supplies which can't be delivered on small Progress or other launches.

Yet these supplies will not last forever, and any delays in new rocket launch systems could endanger the ability to support a crew of six.

A far greater threat to ISS exists in the event of a single accident or failure of a critical component for which there is no replacement onboard.

It is unlikely but possible that meteoroid or space junk could damage a cooling or solar panel or other large critical system. If there is no replacement, what happens? Post-shuttle, it could take far too long to custom-engineer a rocket to deliver such a replacement.

Congress must demand and get the honest facts on what--if any--contingency plans NASA has for delivering such large and critical components in a timely manner. Simply, no plan could result in the potential loss of ISS.

If there are not specific, detailed plans for each possible scenario which actually can be implemented in a reasonable length of time, then we must put on immediate hold the irreversible decommissioning of the shuttles and their workforce and infrastructure. This includes plans with funding to use a particular rocket and how to fit such components into a fairing, and how to dock the payload with ISS. Just stating it is no problem to launch such components, and that plans can be made if or when needed is a prescription for disaster.

If the shuttles could be saved at this late date, it is not just a matter of preventing Endeavour and Atlantis from being irreparably gutted for display, it is preserving the workforce which can actually launch an emergency mission and having the launch pad and other critical items themselves not be dismantled. It means producing or locating several more external tanks (there is one on display at Kennedy Visitors Center, for example). But agenda item number one is to postpone Endeavour and then Atlantis from being carved up internally for safe display until contingency plans have been confirmed.

It is incredibly irresponsible to endanger the space station if there are not having specific plans for every major threat to ISS.

This week and maybe for a short time beyond, gutting of Endeavour will not have proceeded to the irreversible stage and the offer made by United Space Alliance to take over Endeavour and Atlantis for five years and offer services to NASA at lower cost than current.

Congress could make such a stink that NASA has no option but to accept the offer.

The space station is a $100 billion investment in our future in space, and must not be held hostage to political decisions and apparent penny-pinching.

Call Congress today at 202-224-3121  Facebook it, Twitter it, blog it--spread the word! Thank you.

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