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Space Shuttles to be Retired in Five Years

Space Shuttles to be Retired in Five Years

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Ed Yeates ReportingUp up and away, forever. NASA will retire the space shuttle, as we know it, come 2010. After that a new breed of spacecrafts will take to the skies and beyond. One Utah vision is already on the drawing board.

The workhorse we've all known will "shuttle" into retirement in another five years. Taking its place will be a new fleet of rockets and vehicles designed to take crews and their cargo to boundaries farther out in space. ATK Thiokol in Utah has one concept already in NASA's lap.

Dr. Scott Horowitz, Director, ATK Thiokol Space Transportation & Exploration: "We will have a simpler vehicle which will be more robust and more reliable, and therefore, it will be safer for the crew - and it will be dedicated to launching the crew."

For the crew spaceship - a little different view of what we've been accustomed to with the shuttle - everything would be packaged into a single, sleek, much higher column. At the bottom, new solid fuel boosters. The liquid fuel tank comes next, then on top the crew.

Dr. Scott Horowitz: "Turns out that is the safest place for the crew to be during launch."

In an emergency a powerful rocket at the tip could pull the capsule with its crew out of harm's way. Out in space the team would rendezvous with awaiting cargo and other vehicles, sent up earlier in another spacecraft - one that could carry 300-thousand pounds of payload.

Dr. Scott Horowitz: "This vehicle will be much larger than the current space shuttle stack. In fact, it will rival the Saturn Five."

Another, more conventional in the fleet, would transport a lighter and very different kind of shuttle. The new spacecrafts would be part of a package to get crews beyond low orbit back to the moon again and on to Mars.

ATK Thiokol believes getting this kind of fleet on line would be the most reliable and affordable option for 2010. And, he says, "it's at our fingertips, so we can use it today."

NASA is looking at several concepts for a new fleet. The space agency is expected to announce its decision after the completion of this latest Discovery mission.

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