NASA administrator Michael Griffin has warned the US Congress that he expects the four-year US manned spaceflight capability gap between the Space Shuttle's 2010 retirement and its replacement's first launch to grow, unless the agency's fiscal year 2008 exploration systems budget is fully funded.

Cuts imposed in February by Congress on the FY2007 budget have already prompted Griffin to predict a six-month delay for the maiden flight of NASA's four-person Orion crew exploration vehicle, which was planned for September 2014.

If Orion's FY2008 budget is not fully funded Griffin expects a launch beyond March 2015, but the International Space Station, which Orion is to service, is planned to be decommissioned in 2016. There are two versions of Orion in development, one for ISS and one for post-2018 lunar missions.

Griffin told the US Senate subcommittee on justice, science and related agencies and the House of Representatives' committee on science and technology last week: "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."

With no US human spaceflight capability from 2010, NASA will be dependent on Russia for ISS crew transport.

Source: Flight International