This is an incredibly vital issue and you'll find other postings on this site providing further information. The near-miss by space junk a few days ago, last year's failure of a cooling pump, and (so far) minor micrometeroid damage to ISS and the shuttle all underscore the absolute necessity to have a way to replace large items on an urgent basis. Simply, nothing but the shuttles can in a timely way deliver replacements. A couple billion a year is cheap insurance for a $100 billion space station.
This is making national news--here's the Washington Post's article, but you and I and our associates can help decision makers understand the significance of this issue.
I urge everyone to call this letter to the attention of your Senators and Representative, and to spread the word around the web, Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else.
June 30, 2011
Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
Administrator National Aeronautics and Space Administration
300 E Street, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20546
Dear Administrator Bolden,
We believe that the planned retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet after the flight of STS-135 next month will create an unacceptable flight risk for maintaining safe and reliable operations of the International Space Station (ISS). As you well know, the shuttles are the only spacecraft that can provide independent spacewalks for critical ISS repairs.
If an incident or life support failure rendered the ISS uninhabitable, repair spacewalks to restore operations would not be possible from the space station. In a worst case scenario, deterioration and loss of systems on an abandoned ISS could result in an uncontrolled, catastrophic reentry with risks to populated areas around the world. This would have significant ramifications to foreign relations and liability for the United States, Russia and the other countries who participate as partners on the International Space Station. The recent near miss of space debris, which caused the ISS astronauts to seek shelter in the Soyuz spacecraft, is a reminder that a catastrophic accident is a stark possibility.
This issue was the subject of a commentary article we co-authored, published in the June 12th edition of the New York Daily News, which is enclosed. (Link)
The Space Shuttle fleet is the only spacecraft, now operating or under development, that is equipped with the airlocks, life support supplies and robotic arm needed to support the required two-person spacewalking repair crews. We believe the Space Shuttle fleet should be kept in service to provide the capability of independent repair spacewalks in the event that the International Space Station is crippled by a systems failure or accident. The Space Shuttles would also be available to support one or two logistics and science missions per year, provide unmatched capacity to return components and scientific experiments to Earth (with low gravitational loads on crew and cargo during reentry) and extend the reliability of space station operations with a Service Life Extension Program.
The capability of the Space Shuttles to provide the independent repair spacewalks, critical for restoring operations on a disabled ISS, would also be vital for protecting the ISS cargo and crew transport business of the emerging commercial space industry. Keeping the shuttle fleet in service would also comply with a new, internationally accepted flight criteria that we believe should be established: Any object placed in orbit that is too large for an uncontrolled reentry must have a spacecraft available to support independent EVA repairs.
To maintain this vital life safety margin for long-term ISS operations we are requesting the following:
* Congress should request an immediate, 3 week, impartial study and hold emergency hearings on this matter.
* In these hearings, Congress should consider passing emergency legislation ordering NASA to halt all work on modifying the Space Shuttle fleet for museum display. Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour should be stored at Kennedy Space Center in the Orbiter Processing Facility and maintained in such a manner as to keep them flightworthy. Moreover, the Vehicle Assembly Building, Crawler-Transporters, Launch Complex 39-A, Shuttle Landing Facility and other facilities and support equipment needed for Space Shuttle operations should be maintained in place to support future Space Shuttle flights.
* NASA and its International Space Station partners should consider the shared responsibility of developing funding solutions for the continued operation of the Space Shuttle fleet to ensure the long-term safety of space station operations. NASA led plans, as well as commercial alternatives to operate the shuttles commercially, should be presented to Congress and considered to reduce costs and budget impacts.
* To avoid any gap in providing independent repair spacewalks as a safety contingency for the space station, Congress, NASA and the ISS partners should evaluate the option of postponing the launch of STS - 135 until more external fuel tanks and other parts can be built to support additional shuttle flights in 2012.
We appreciate your consideration of our recommendation for NASA and Congress to take immediate action to reverse the retirement of the Space Shuttles. The Space Shuttles are the only solution for restoring space station operations with independent spacewalk repair capabilities. Given the risks and liabilities for NASA and the ISS partners if the International Space Station is crippled by a systems failure or accident, the Space Shuttles are too valuable an asset to be retired into museums. Sincerely,
Christopher C. Kraft
Former Director of NASA Manned Spaceflight Center
Scott R. Spencer
Transportation Management Consultant
Robert L. Crippen, Pilot STS-1, Commander (STS-7, STS-41C and STS-41G)
Frederick H. Hauck, Pilot STS-7, Commander (STS-51A and STS-26)
Walter Cunningham, LM Pilot, Apollo 7
Neil A. Armstrong, Commander, Apollo 11
James A. Lovell, Jr., Commander, Apollo 13
Eugene A. Cernan, Commander, Apollo 17
Gene Kranz, Director of Mission Operations - Flight Director
Tom Moser, NASA Space Station Program Director
John W. Robinson, Chairman, Space Propulsion Synergy Team
cc: President Barack Obama
Vice President Joseph Biden
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson
U.S. Representative Ralph Hall