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Sept. 9, 2008 -- NASA is about out of options for keeping U.S. astronauts in space after 2011.
Unless President George Bush intervenes, or whoever succeeds him in January immediately steps into the space arena, the dismantling of the space shuttle program will be too far along to reverse course.
"That horse has left the barn," wrote NASA's former shuttle manager Wayne Hale in his Web blog.
The three-ship fleet is scheduled for retirement in 2010. NASA wants to use the shuttle's budget for developing replacement ships that can go to the moon as well as to the International Space Station. The new vehicle, called Orion, won't be ready until 2015 -- five years after the shuttle stops flying.
NASA had counted on buying Russian Soyuz capsules to transport crews to the space station during the gap. But in recent interviews, NASA administrator Michael Griffin said he has no hope Congress will pass the legislation needed for NASA to keep the Soyuz assembly lines running.
"My guess is that there is going to be a lengthy period with no U.S. crew on (the space station) after 2011," Griffin wrote in an email to top NASA managers that was posted on the Orlando Sentinel's Web site.