NASA has only five space shuttle missions on its schedule, but the safety factor of the next generation of astronaut transport is still to be decided.

Next Space Transport's Safety at Issue

NASA has only five space shuttle missions on its schedule, but the safety factor of the next generation of astronauts’ transport is still to be decided.

How to make a safer reusable vehicle to reach near-Earth orbit is a question yet to be decided, and a congressional hearing this week takes up that question again. The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, part of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology, has not listed a current astronaut among the witnesses for the Dec. 2 hearing, but retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford, a veteran space traveler, is listed.

Florida Today’s Todd Halvorson reported Sunday that NASA's Astronaut Office believes a tenfold increase in the main U.S. space transport vehicle is achievable with today's technology and wants that increase to be the benchmark for the shuttle’s replacement. NASA has only five space shuttle missions remaining on its schedule.

Shuttle Discovery is currently scheduled to begin the final mission of these workhorse – but highly dangerous, when compared to earthbound modes of transportation – vehicles on Sept. 16, 2010, at 11:57 a.m. EDT, according to NASA's schedule. That would be the 134th and final space shuttle flight and the 36th shuttle mission to the International Space Station, the agency says.

The House hearing's witnesses are Bretton Alexander, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation; Dr. Joseph Fragola, vice president of Valador Inc. of Herndon, Va.; Jeff Hanley, Constellation Program manager for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate; John Marshall, a member of NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel; Bryan O'Connor, chief of Safety and Mission Assurance for NASA; and Stafford, who was chosen as an astronaut in September 1962, piloted the Gemini VI mission, commanded Gemini IX, commanded Apollo 10 in May 1969 that performed the entire moon landing mission except for the actual landing accomplished by Apollo 11's crew, became head of the astronaut group in June 1969, and commanded the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission in July 1975, which was the first space meeting of American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts.

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