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Those seem to be the alternative views.

“It lacks vision. It’s a stopgap measure for NASA so it can fulfil short-term goals of supplying a space station, which has a limited life of its own,” said Rick N. Tumlinson, president of the Nyack, N.Y.-based Space Frontier Foundation.

Tumlinson said the space plane would supplement a shuttle program that he called basically an “expensive government trucking service” that could be handled by the private sector.

NASA should focus instead on exploring the planets, he said.

“The space plane is part of an extension of a shuttle program that’s been heading in the wrong direction,” he said. “The goal should be to make space travel more routine, less costly and safer.”

Bruce Mahone, director of space policy for the Washington-based Aerospace Industries Association, an industry lobbying group, defended NASA’s plans.

He said that although the shuttle fleet is aging, the three remaining craft are constantly being upgraded and have years of service left.

None of them has flown the 100 missions envisioned for each when the shuttle program began in the 1970s, he said.

The space plane “will be much smaller than the shuttles, newer and more inexpensive if designed properly,” he said. “It’s a lifeboat for the space station.”

Unfortunately, neither man seems to “get it”. Something has to replace the Shuttle, and the startups we all root for just aren’t yet in a position to do so, nor will they be in the time frame involved here (5-8 years) unless they radically alter their business plans to facilitate rapid development versus incremental progress (and yes, there is a raft of assumptions implicit in that argument).

For its part, the AIA is behaving true-to-form in defending the interests of the old-line aerospace companies: the Shuttle is great and it’ll fly forever (or for as long as we keep getting contracts to maintain it), and OSP is a wonderful repla— er, supplement to Shuttle that we look forward to building (because you know NASA will be throwing us this porkchop).

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