NASA engineers reportedly will abandon the basic space shuttle design in the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to make them safer and more powerful.
The design would separate the jobs of hauling people and cargo into orbit and would put the payloads on top of the rockets, the New York Times reported Tuesday. That would keep space crews as far as possible from engines and falling debris, which caused accidents that destroyed the shuttle Challenger in 1986 and shuttle Columbia in 2003.
The plan, originated more than two years ago, is being detailed as attention is riveted on space shuttle Discovery, whose crew will make the first emergency spacewalk in history Wednesday to repair a potentially hazardous problem.
The plan for new vehicles will be officially announced later this month, the Times said. The project is already being questioned. Alex Roland, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration historian, says the plan so far revealed has "the aroma of a quick and dirty solution to a big problem."
The three remaining space shuttles are to be retired by 2010 under the Bush administration's plan for space exploration, which includes sending humans to the Moon and eventually to Mars.
Copyright 2005 by United Press International
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