The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced a new program that will keep the familiar shuttles flying for at least a few more years.
The Space Shuttle program, which has long been ridiculed for high budgets and low returns to US taxpayers, had logged 135 missions when the program originally ended with the successful landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, 2011.
NASA scientists, however, have vowed to continue the Shuttle flights on missions that will only last a few hours, as opposed to days or weeks, and will not leave the earth's atmosphere. "Our shuttles will ride atop modified jumbo jets, thereby eliminating the huge expenses involved with escaping the earth's gravitational pull," stated Charles Bolden, chief administrator for the agency.
Astronauts, therefore, will no longer be required to undergo expensive training or pass rigorous physical and psychological standards as weightlessness, solitude, and conditioning will not factor into five or six hour missions at forty thousand feet. In fact, Bolden pointed out, in-flight meals may be eliminated entirely by fine tuning mission departure times to coincide with a breakfast or lunch on the ground, for example.
Early indicators for possible projects are to test the differences in carbonated beverages at cruising altitudes, measure effectiveness in various hair care products such as gels, conditioners, hair sprays, and pomades, as well as a strong impetus for testing one ply paper towels versus two ply. "The airline industry could save a lot of money each year on in-flight spills if there is no significant difference between the two," Bolden said, "and they seem willing to pay for that type of information."
The agency is also leaning strongly toward a project that tests the absorbency of diapers, both for children and the ever-growing adult segment of the market, which researchers are hoping might lead to thinner, more comfortable units designed specifically for transcontinental flights in the future.
Bolden expressed confidence that the missions could begin as early as next week, with most of the astronauts hoping to schedule missions around important college and pro football games as well as some of the season premieres of the new fall tv season.
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