The Purpose of the Space Shuttle Program

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The space shuttles are retiring for many reasons. First, their main job is to carry heavy items to the ISS. That work is nearing completion. Second, the shuttles are getting old. They have been flying since 1981. Third, the shuttles are expensive to run. NASA needs this money for other programs.

In 2004, President George W. Bush said he wanted astronauts to return to the moon. Eventually, he imagined travel to Mars. To do this, NASA needed to build a new spaceship. This would be expensive. NASA could no longer spend $4 billion a year on the shuttle program. President Barack Obama has since dropped the moon program. But he believes that NASA should build a giant rocket. This would be used to send astronauts to an asteroid. Later, it might be used for trips to Mars.

Q: What exactly was the purpose of the space shuttle program?

A: The shuttle program was imagined as an inexpensive, simple, and safe way to go to space. A trip to space was to take place every week. The program didn't quite do this. However, the shuttle turned out to be the best way to carry large items into orbit. For example, the shuttle carried the Hubble Space Telescope into space. Taking heavy items to the ISS soon became the main job of space shuttles.

Q: Without the shuttles, how will NASA send astronauts to the ISS?

A: NASA will continue to buy rides on Russian capsules. These capsules can be used to carry astronauts to the ISS. This currently costs $56 million a seat. The price is expected to climb to $63 million soon. This is still less than the space shuttle program.

Eventually, NASA may turn to private companies to carry astronauts into space. Some privately owned companies are developing rockets and capsules. These are for commercial use. The companies expect to be able to fly astronauts to the ISS within three years.

Q: What will happen to the space shuttles?

A: NASA has three space shuttles that it uses. These three shuttles will be shipped off to museums....
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