Yesterday NASA announced that it was beginning its preparations for STS-135, the last, “extra” space shuttle mission to be flown by shuttle Atlantis. If all goes according to plan, Atlantis will blast off on June 28 to close out the space shuttle era. The mission: transport a last module to the International Space Station along with another load of parts.
But will the mission even leave the launch pad?
Right now, NASA is in a state of limbo. In 2010, President Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act, which laid out the blueprint for NASA’s future objectives. In the last minute wrangling over the bill, the STS-135 mission was included. Unfortunately, the Authorization Act means nothing without the money which can only be provided through an appropriations bill, which has to, by law, start in the House of Representatives. Problem: the Republicans who now control the House were swept into office for, among other things, their promise to cut government spending.
Needless to say, NASA may be on the chopping block, which would mean no extra shuttle mission should the space agency’s budget get cut.
Right now, NASA is in a state of limbo With the government failing to pass any real binding resolutions for NASA (the Authorization Act might as well be a wish list without the cash), there is, for the first time, no clear goal for America’s space agency. Undoubtedly, the new Congress will play a huge role in deciding what NASA will be doing for the foreseeable future. So far, though, NASA’s future is about as clear as a cloudy sky.
On top of all the budget worries, there is the question of the temperamental Discovery‘s last mission, now set for late February. Originally, Discovery was set to launch at the beginning of November (and 4 dozen Cleveland students even made a trip to Florida to watch). Instead, technical and structural problems compounded to delay the mission nearly 4 months. So, even if STS-135 gets approved, it may not fly at its scheduled time if Discovery (or the STS-134 mission) gets delayed.
In the end, only time will tell what happens, so stay tuned.
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