Without a fully funded fiscal year 2008 budget for its exploration systems programme NASA administrator Michael Griffin has told the US Congress he expects the current US human spaceflight capability gap to grow to more than four and a half years.

He described how NASA’s four-person Orion crew exploration vehicle’s planned September 2014 maiden flight would be delayed to March 2015 because of the FY2007 budget cuts already imposed by Congress and that without a fully funded FY2008 budget that delay would be pushed further.

Griffin was speaking to the US Senate subcommittee on justice, science and related agencies and the House of Representatives’ committee on science and technology on 15 March. NASA's fiscal year is from October to September.

He told the two committees, “I ask for your support in fully funding NASA’s FY2008 exploration systems budget request to ensure that the gap in US human spaceflight capabilities after Shuttle retirement does not grow longer.”

NASA's Space Shuttle fleet is to be retired by September 2010 when the International Space Station (ISS) assembly is complete. But with a delay for Orion to 2015 or longer the US may be permanently dependent on Russian crew space transportation until the end of the life of ISS, which is currently 2016.

On 15 March NASA also submitted its fiscal year 2007 operating plan to the US Senate subcommittee on justice, science and related agencies. The plan is also provided to all other NASA budget related committees.

This plan outlines how NASA will spend the reduced budget Congress approved for it in February. That approved budget cut $577 million from exploration systems, causing the six month Orion maiden flight delay Griffin has spoken about. Congress has 15-days to respond with questions about the plan however the US space agency is expecting to be able make public a final 2007 operating plan by the first week of April.

Source: FlightGlobal.com