NASA to speed up shuttle launch schedule

NASA officials in Washington plan to double the number of shuttle flights to hasten the completion of the International Space Station amid safety concerns.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said it has scheduled six shuttle launches for 2008, twice that of the previous two years, in an effort to complete the assembly of the International Space Station even though there are concerns about the durability and safety of the 27-year-old shuttle fleet, The Washington Post said Sunday.

Recurring electrical problems grounded the space shuttle Atlantis in December, and budgetary, political and maintenance considerations may tempt the fate of future missions.

NASA officials said they're confident the spaceships can complete the work load by the time they are to be retired in September 2010, but critics worry the ambitious schedule may be at the cost of safety.

"This pressure feels so familiar," said Alex Roland, a former NASA historian with Duke University. "It was the same before the Challenger and Columbia disasters: this push to do more with a spaceship that is inherently unpredictable because it is so complex."

NASA officials said the next mission has a tentative launch date of Jan. 24.

Copyright 2008 by United Press International

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