If ever there was a story I thought as a kid I’d never be reading, it’s this one:

shuttlemir.jpgFour astronauts launching on NASA’s final shuttle flight July 8 have booked a relatively short, 12-day round trip to the International Space Station.

But if Atlantis is damaged so severely that it becomes unsafe for re-entry, the crew’s visit could get a lot longer, with at least one of them unlikely to get home again until next May.

“We don’t have the luxury of having another shuttle that can come up and get us,” Atlantis mission specialist Rex Walheim said.

Since Columbia and seven astronauts were lost during atmospheric re-entry in 2003, when heat shield damage went undetected, NASA always has had a second shuttle ready for a rescue mission.

But this time, there’s no backup. Atlantis is outfitted with NASA’s last shuttle external tank and solid rocket boosters.

So NASA developed an alternate plan: The crew would stay on the station and make staggered returns on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. To accomplish that, NASA would forgo the launch of U.S. astronauts to the station to free up seats on the Russian ships.

Then one or two at a time, the Atlantis astronauts would fly back on already scheduled Soyuz crew rotation missions. A Soyuz can carry three people.

“It’s a well thought out but lengthy process,” Atlantis mission commander Chris Ferguson said.

Well thought out?  Seriously?

I don’t think so.

Ceding preeminence is never well thought out.  Unless it’s intentional.

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