Retirement of the Space Shuttle

Video Message: Cristina T. Chaplain

Cristina T. Chaplain

Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management

(202) 512-4841

A decision that must be made soon whether to retire the Space Shuttle in 2010, as currently planned, or to extend its life in view of limited options for supporting the International Space Station. Already, shuttle contracts are being phased out and shuttle facilities are being closed or transferred to contracts supporting new development efforts. A decision in favor of extending the shuttle may offer the best course for the future of the International Space Station, as (1) the recent conflict between Russia and the Republic of Georgia has called into question the wisdom of relying on Russian space vehicles to ferry U.S. crew and cargo to and from the station during a 5-year gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability, and (2) it still appears that other vehicles being developed to support the station—including those from commercial suppliers as well as NASA—may not be ready when anticipated. However, extending the shuttle could also have significant consequences on the future direction of human spaceflight for the United States. Specifically, NASA is counting on the retirement of the shuttle to free up resources to pursue a new generation of space flight vehicles that is anticipated to come online in 2015.

According to NASA, reversing current plans and keeping the shuttle flying past 2010 would cost $2.5 billion to $4 billion per year. In addition, extending the shuttle will likely be costly and logistically difficult, particularly since it would require restarting production lines and possibly recertifying suppliers as well as the shuttles. On the other hand, the new administration may well decide to extend the shuttle and defer development of new transportation vehicles in light of budgetary constraints, as the new vehicles are expected to cost more than $230 billion to develop and deploy.

^ Back to topWhat Needs to Be Done

  • The administration needs to move quickly to nominate and fill key leadership positions within NASA because the decision on whether to retire or continue operating the Space Shuttle will need to be made soon.

    Highlights of GAO-08-1096 (PDF), Highlights of GAO-08-186T (PDF)

  • In order to preserve this investment option for the next administration, NASA needs to retain the workforce, facilities, equipment, and suppliers necessary to continue operating the Space Shuttle.

    Highlights of GAO-07-940 (PDF)

^ Back to topKey Reports

NASA: Ares I and Orion Project Risks and Key Indicators to Measure Progress
GAO-08-186T, April 3, 2008
NASA Supplier Base: Challenges Exist in Transitioning from the Space Shuttle Program to the Next Generation of Human Space Flight Systems
GAO-07-940, July 25, 2007
NASA: Agency Faces Challenges Defining Scope and Costs of Space Shuttle Transition and Retirement
GAO-08-1096, September 30, 2008