Breaking: House adds $$$ for extra Shuttle flight… FOR SCIENCE

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June 18 2008 4:46 PM

Breaking: House adds $$$ for extra Shuttle flight… FOR SCIENCE

This is amazing news: The House just approved a budget for NASA next year that includes money for an extra Shuttle flight.

Now, are you sitting down? The flight is to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a science experiment, to the space station!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Whoa.

The AMS was built with money from the DoE and a bunch of other countries, and NASA promised to loft it into orbit before the Shuttle program was vastly scaled back. NASA has balked at launching it because of the cost of an extra flight and the very tight schedule for the Shuttle to finish building the station.

The funny thing is, once the space station is finished it's not good for much. But with the AMS on it it'll be doing loads of cool science.

Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration is against the extra flight -- maybe he's just used to knee-jerking against anything this new Congress approves of. What's funny is that the reason given by the White House for their disapproval is that this House budget might threaten the schedule for the new Orion rockets. However, the bill specifically adds $1 billion to accelerate the new system's readiness. Oh, snap!

My own feelings about this are complicated. I hate to see science sitting on the ground, especially well over a billion bucks worth of it. I also want to see the ISS doing some compelling science. However, I'm not so comfortable with an extra Shuttle flight. Still and all, this bill seems to cover the needed ground: more money for the flight, and more money for Orion.

The budget has to go through the Senate, of course. If it passes, I sincerely doubt Bush will veto it; it passed the House by a vote of 409-15. If the Senate has a similar ratio, that's veto-proof.

Also, if it passes, Michael Griffin will have kittens. He's against anyone fiddling with the Shuttle schedule, especially when Congress sticks their nose into his business. There's an argument to be made there, but I think in this case he doesn't have a leg to stand on. He says we have to finish the ISS because we committed to doing it with our foreign partners, yet here we have the AMS which we also promised our foreign partners we'd launch. So he's trapped.

But it's not too bad a position to be in; having Congress give you extra money for both the near term project and the longer term one. If only he had this problem every year...

And just one last note. The AP article about this has this little bit of gossip as an addendum:

The [House] vote came four days after the shuttle Discovery mission returned from its latest mission to the International Space Station. That shuttle's commander, Mark Kelly, is married to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.

Heh.

Tip o' the space suit visor to Fark.

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