Space: December 24, 2001


NASA is continuing to push for a plan to privatize the Space Shuttle fleet, which would eventually sell the spacecraft to the United Space Alliance (a consortium of aerospace contractors). NASA would then be only one of many customers. The plan is thought by some to be a pipe dream by a desperately bankrupt NASA. The Bush Administration has seen more problems with the idea than advantages. Boeing and Lockheed Martin (which, jointly, are the United Space Alliance) hold lucrative contracts for the constantly rebuilt main engines and the expendable main fuel tanks, and oppose privatization (since it would slash their profits). Boeing and Lockheed Martin also do not want any shuttle deal that competes with their commercial space booster business. If the Alliance does take over the shuttles, they will demand that Congress fund expensive upgrades. Funding for these could come only by cutting back programs for expendable launchers. Mark Shuttleworth, an internet tycoon, will become the second tourist and first South African in space. He has paid Russia $20 million for a week-long ride to the International Space Station next April. The Russians are desperate for cash, but NASA is unhappy that Russia is cluttering up the station program with non-productive bodies.--Stephen V Cole


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