Dim Prospects for US Astronauts:

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told a Senate panel Thursday that the US space agency is falling behind Russia and China. NASA plans to retire the space shuttle in fall 2010, leaving the US without a means to put astronauts into space through 2012 unless it buys “seats from Russia. That is, at this point, our only option,” he said. After January 2012, said Griffin, NASA will “no longer have the legal option to buy seats from Russia.” Griffin said it would take an additional $1 billion more a year in NASA’s 2009 and 2010 budgets to generate a shuttle replacement by September 2013. Sen. Bill Nelson, who chairs the committee that oversees NASA, said in a statement that the White House planned for NASA to complete construction on the International Space Station prior to retiring the shuttle and expressed his concern over NASA’s “arbitrary date” of 2010 to retire the shuttle. However, he caveated that by saying: “We are all aware that NASA is being asked to do much with too little. The President has not provided the funding necessary to implement his own Vision for Space Exploration.”