- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

The Columbia accident was a reminder that the space shuttle was designed as an all-purpose vehicle a space truck on some missions, a laboratory on others. But because the shuttle can do so many different jobs, it's extremely inefficient for a specific purpose, particularly transporting people.
For the past two decades the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been examining a replacement to take up some of the shuttle's responsibilities, but so far none of the projects has made it to flight. The X-30 "Orient Express" was too much of a leap in technology and remained a paper study, the X-33 was overweight and underperforming and was canceled with only a partially built prototype to show, and the X-38 was over budget and behind schedule and only some drop tests were completed.
The X-38 was a prototype for a U.S. "lifeboat" for the International Space Station Alpha. But it was intended for use only as a lifeboat. NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said the likelihood that a crew would ever be forced to abandon the space station was small and it didn't make sense to spend so much money for something that was unlikely ever to be used. Still, it's considered an absolute necessity to avoid a "Titanic" situation with not enough lifeboat seats for everybody onboard.
Mr. O'Keefe said that for a relatively small increase in the budget for the X-38, NASA could have an Orbital Space Plane (OSP), a more versatile vehicle capable of two-way transport of people and supplies to the space station.
"It's a pretty aggressive program. We see a first flight of a technology demonstrator by 2006," he said. The Orbital Space Plane is expected to be operational as a lifeboat by 2010, and a two-way vehicle two years later.
Initially, the OSP will be launched using Delta 4 or Atlas 5 launch vehicles that have just become available. The Atlas 5 is a direct descendant of the Atlas D used to launch John Glenn into space 41 years ago but the new Atlas vehicles don't share any common components or systems. Neither the Atlas 5 or Delta 4 is "man rated," lacking the additional safety systems and monitoring systems to warn the crew of dangers.
Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and a partnership between Northrop Grumman and Orbital Sciences Corp. have been studying several potential OSP designs. Still to be determined is how much of the OSP will be reusable. Certainly it will benefit from the experience gained from the space shuttle and an additional three decades of improvements in technology. The OSP's requirements, released Feb. 18, call for higher reliability than the space shuttle and Russian Soyuz, more launch flexibility than the shuttle, the ability to stay in space for up to six months and lower life-cycle costs.
The OSP will not replace the shuttle. The shuttle will still be needed for missions that need the large amounts of cargo or the shuttle's other unique capabilities. OSP will be used primarily to ferry long-term crews.
The normal job for the OSP will be crew exchange. A four-person crew will use an OSP as its transportation to and from the space station. The OSP they launch in will serve as their lifeboat for their four- to six-month stay in space.
After the new crew has settled in, the outgoing crew will return to Earth in its OSP. Besides OSP, the Russian Soyuz will continue to be used for an additional three persons. Normally there will be a seven-person crew on the station, three using the Soyuz for transport and four using an OSP.

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