CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said Thursday that he’s examining what it would take to keep the space shuttle flying for five years past its 2010 retirement date.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, Griffin said the Russian invasion of Georgia will likely cut off access to Russian Soyuz rockets, leaving NASA with no way to get to the international space station except for the aging orbiter.

Griffin also said that NASA is looking at one-in-eight odds of losing a shuttle and crew if it adds 10 flights after 2010, recalculated from one-in-12 odds announced in April.

“This is why the shuttle needs to be retired,” he said.

Still, the NASA chief said he has ordered his agency to look into the possibility of twice-a-year shuttle flights after 2010 in case the next administration decides that flying the shuttle on a limited basis is better than being cut off from the $100 billion space station.

At issue is a law called the Iran, North Korea, Syria Non-Proliferation Act, or INKSNA, which requires NASA to get an exemption from Congress to buy Russian Soyuz spacecraft because of Russia’s sales of high-tech equipment to Iran.

If the shuttle is retired, NASA would need the Soyuz to take astronauts to the station for at least five years until its successor Ares rocket is ready in 2015. But NASA’s contract to buy Soyuz runs out in 2011, and the Russian invasion of Georgia means Congress is unlikely to grant NASA the waiver it needs to buy more.

“If the waiver is dead on arrival this year, then there will be a period in 2012 where we will have no American or international partner crew on station. There will be a Russian crew only,” Griffin said.

Here are excerpts of the interview:

Q: You recently asked for a study looking at how to extend the shuttle program. Why?

A: First, let me correct your assumption. I am not looking to extend flying the shuttle. I am looking at what it would take if we were asked to keep flying to support the space station . . . About five minutes after I heard the news of the Russian invasion of Georgia, I became concerned that our policy of depending upon them for crew transport might be in jeopardy . . . Subsequent comments from (Capitol) Hill, which I understand completely, have caused me to think that my concern was well-founded. So I asked (NASA) to begin looking at the issue that if we were told to continue flying the shuttle in order to support the space station, what would it take and what would be the damages? Prudent planning requires me to ask these questions.

Q: The White House and its Office of Management and Budget have been dead set against any extension beyond 2010. Has anybody from the White House expressed any concern about your request?

A: No, not at all. I lead the pack in wanting to retire the shuttle. I think we must stick with the current plan to depend upon the Russians. . . . I don’t like it, but it is the best plan that we have at this point.

Q: You told the Senate in April that you thought two more missions a year from 2011 to 2015 would put the risk of losing another crew at one-in-12, and you said it was not a risk that you wanted to accept. Has that changed?

A: A better number for executing 10 more missions between 2011 and 2015 would be a one-in-eight probability of losing a crew. And yes, I do believe the risk of losing a crew should be factored into the decision on whether to extend shuttle flight. But let me make it clear: I am trying to do prudent planning. I am not operating under the illusion that my preferences are laws of nature. I prefer to stick to our current plan: to get a waiver on INKSNA and continue to purchase crew transport from Russia until we can deploy Ares and Orion. But merely because I think it ought to be done, doesn’t mean it will be done.

Q: One-in-eight? Those are terrible odds.

A: Let me be very specific. Our current loss-of-crew probability on the shuttle is . . . about one in 80 . . . That’s the loss-of-crew probability for a single mission. If you ask what are the odds of doing 10 missions in a row without losing a crew, the odds are seven-out-of-eight. So turning it around, if you fly 10 missions the odds of losing a crew are one-in-eight.

Q: It is hard to imagine that this administration or the next would look at that number and be comfortable.

A: Well, we are doing it today. We’ve got 10 more missions to fly just to finish building the space station. These are the odds. This is why the shuttle needs to be retired.

Q: That’s why your decision to look at extending the shuttle is so surprising to many.

A: Well, the Russian invasion of Georgia was a surprise to people. We have a $100 billion space station on orbit. It is unimaginable to me that the next government of the United States is going to decide, “Oh well, I guess we just don’t have to take care of that anymore.”

We have accepted the risk as a nation. We lost shuttle Columbia in the middle of the station program, and there was a decision made at the highest levels of government that we would accept the risk of flying more shuttles to finish our commitment to the station. I support that decision. I have been working my butt off to get that decision implemented for three-and-a-half years now, and we’re within sight of the finishing line. It’s going pretty well.

Q: If you are looking at a worst-case scenario with no Soyuz, no commercial vehicles capable of human space flight, and no shuttle, what’s plan B?

A: Plan B is we don’t have Americans or international partner crews on the station.

Q: Are any commercial companies approaching you saying we think we can do something to help out?

A: No.

Q: The workforce at Kennedy Space Center is keeping their fingers crossed that the shuttle will fly more.

A: I think that is in their long-term worst interests, because at some point we will lose another shuttle and then we really will be done. I would say the future interest of KSC lies in building new systems.

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