exploration systems mission directorate
Exploration Systems Mission Directorate

NASA's mission directorate responsible for implementing the Vision for Space Exploration.

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space operations mission directorate
Space Operations Mission Directorate

NASA's mission directorate responsible for operating spacecraft related to human in and beyond low-Earth orbit.

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OIA web site
Office of Infrastructure and Administration

Office of Infrastructure and Administration is a diverse organization supporting Agency missions by providing executive leadership, policy, technical expertise and oversight of Agency infrastructure and management systems.

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Frequently Asked Questions

    What is NASA doing from now until the shuttle retires in 2010?

    NASA’s shuttle transition planning activities emphasize three major themes: 1) safely flying out the shuttle manifest; 2) modifying or closing out our facilities and infrastructure and releasing excess property; and 3) reorienting our workforce to support future missions. Since 2005, NASA has been planning for the transition from Space Shuttle to Constellation, as Shuttle begins ramping down and Constellation progresses from requirements reviews through design reviews and early test flights, such as the Ares I-X.
    How is the transition strategy shaping the Constellation Program?

    Apollo 11 Celebration The United States is transitioning from a country with a human spaceflight program focused on low Earth orbit to a nation that develops transportation modes for human exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond. In a building-block approach, the lunar missions are preparation and training grounds for Mars mission. Constellation will use some Shuttle hardware, such as the Solid Rocket Booster case segments, or Shuttle heritage technology, such as in the manufacture of the Ares I upper stage oxygen and fuel tank. Ares V manufacturing will use similar manufacturing technology, and the Ares V booster rockets will use additional Shuttle components.

    What are the biggest concerns with making the transition?

    Managing the NASA transition is a major challenge facing the agency, with workforce being a primary focus. NASA is gradually transferring or sharing the government workforce from Shuttle operations to Constellation development. NASA is competing Constellation contracts as requirements are defined, and the successful bidders understand the future role for their industrial workforce. Since Ares V, Altair, and Ares I ground processing are not yet awarded, a major segment of industrial work in FY2011 and beyond is not yet assigned to specific companies. The second biggest and closely coupled challenge is minimizing the gap between the last flight of the space shuttle and the initial operational capability for the Ares and Orion projects. NASA is working hard to complete the Shuttle manifest on time, so the Shuttle can be retired on schedule, allowing NASA to focus on completing the Orion/Ares I successor vehicle. NASA is also examining ways to accelerate completion of the Orion/Ares I vehicles, given additional funding from the Administration and the Congress.

    Could NASA fly the shuttle past 2010 if the agency had the money?

    NASA has studied extending the Space Shuttle past 2010 given new Presidential direction and additional NASA funding. Although Shuttle has unique capabilities, doing so without substantial additional NASA funding would delay the availability of the Shuttle’s successor vehicle for crew transportation, Orion/Ares. The space shuttle flight hardware production rate is being managed to robustly support the manifest through program retirement in 2010. Through its transition management mechanisms, the agency has and continues to make decisions to release production capabilities that are no longer required to support safe Shuttle mission execution. The NASA Authorization Act of 2008 directed NASA to take no action prior to April 2009 which would preclude a decision to extend the Space Shuttle Program beyond 2010 by the new Presidential Administration, and NASA is of course complying with this provision of the Act. NASA will complete both the Shuttle Extension and Constellation Acceleration studies in early 2009.

    Space Shuttle Launch NASA is fortunate to have highly skilled, motivated, dedicated and experienced employees, both in government and industry, who are fundamentally committed to maintaining global U.S. leadership in human spaceflight. Open, honest communications and, where possible, a defined path forward are the most effective tools for retaining such a unique cadre of people. NASA is examining options to capture the highly skilled and experienced space shuttle workforce for future NASA work. The nation’s human space flight goals are ambitious—including initial operations capability (resupply of the ISS with the new vehicle) , returning to the moon to stay, and then going on to Mars. Thus, NASA must operate new vehicles more efficiently, so that the agency can continuously develop the systems required to carry out these goals. As a result, NASA expects the proportion of workforce devoted to operations and processing will decrease in the near-term and more people will be working on design, development and test activities.

    What and how many flights remain in the shuttle manifest?

    As of December 2008, the shuttle manifest calls for 8 assembly flights to the International Space Station, one to service the Hubble Space Telescope. In addition, we have two shuttle flights to the station, called “contingency flights,” that, if needed, would be used for ISS logistics, or in the event of an issue with assembly before the shuttle's 2010 retirement.

    Why is NASA retiring the shuttle?

    Countdown Clock at KSC In 2004, the United States has made the decision to retire the shuttle, which only flies to low Earth orbit, based on the new national mission to the send human beyond low earth orbit, and the finding of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). Design of a new, smaller crewed vehicle also provides the opportunity to reduce recurring operations costs. The shuttle system is capable and safe to complete our mission to assemble the International Space Station and service the Hubble Space Telescope, but there is not a further mission for the shuttle in low Earth orbit. The Shuttle also lacks a crew escape system for use during ascent to space; such as system will be designed into the new Orion/Ares I vehicle. The agency is focused on sending humans beyond earth orbit, with an initial goal of returning to the moon to establish a permanent base. This goal requires a different type of vehicle to accomplish it.

    When will the first Constellation (Orion/Ares) flights be?

    First test flights of the Orion and Ares vehicles are expected toward the end of the decade, with the initial test flight for the Ares I program (Ares I-X) in summer 2009. The target date for Ares I-X test flight will be finalized after the date for the reschedule STS-125 mission to the Hubble Space Telescope is confirmed. The first test flight of Orion with astronauts is planned for no later than March 2015.