Glenn Center Researching Shuttle Propulsion, Liftoff Power

By LAURA JOHNSTON, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The NASA Glenn Research Center will play a major role in developing systems to launch shuttles and propel them in space, considered keys to the future of space exploration, NASA's top official said Monday.

"There's no end of enthusiasm for exploration. You just can't get to any of those places quickly," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said at the research center.

Solar and nuclear power are some options being researched for liftoffs.

NASA Glenn is working on the Nuclear Systems Initiative with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and the U.S. Energy Department.

Objectives include developing a radio isotope power system that will be used in a Mars "smart lander" in 2009, as well as researching the possibility of using nuclear-electric propulsion.

O'Keefe stressed the need for collaboration among all of NASA's 10 research centers.

"Together we can do exponentially better," he said.

In July, NASA Glenn was awarded $21 million over the next 3 1/2 years to develop a new propulsion system that could carry spacecraft to explore planets, asteroids and comets.

NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster system will use xenon gas and electrical power, rather than chemical propulsion, to move unmanned spacecraft faster and with larger scientific payloads.

The shuttles in NASA's fleet have been operating for less than a quarter of their life spans, O'Keefe said.

At 22 years old, Columbia is the oldest shuttle, and Endeavor is the youngest at 13.

"In terms of capability ... they're unbelievable," he said. "We want to get as much mileage out of them as possible."

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