(www.today.reuters.com) - NASA wants to extend flights by its new Orion spaceships to the International Space Station until 2020 - four years longer than originally planned, the program's manager said.
The U.S. space agency is developing the capsule-style spacecraft, similar to those used in the Apollo moon program of the 1960s and early 1970s, to replace the space shuttles, which will be retired in 2010.The first flight of the Orion is set for 2014.
Orion's main mission will be to transport crews to the moon. But the vehicles' first trips will be to the space station to continue crew and some cargo delivery services.
NASA is hoping it will be able to buy commercial space transportation services to service the station by 2016, reports Trend.
"The supposition previously had been that station flights (by Orion vehicles) would end in 2016," said Jeff Hanley, program manager for NASA's new exploration initiative. "That's not the guidance we're being given now."
Instead, NASA wants to ensure Orion vehicles can make at least two missions to the space station per year through 2020, the target date for the first manned lunar flight since the final Apollo mission there in 1972, he said.
"That may be crew rotations going to station, that could be servicing missions to the station with specialized crews to go up and do special work. We don't know. But we think it's a reasonable frequency of flying and production to base our budgets on at this point in the program," Hanley said in an interview.
Hanley was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to mark the transfer of a historic Apollo-era building to the Orion program for spacecraft assembly and testing.