NASA is taking new steps to ensure Space Shuttles fly safely into the future. Last week, during the first of what will be an annual Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) Summit, NASA led the U.S. space flight community in a comprehensive debate on the long-term requirements to extend the life of the Space Shuttle fleet.

The two-day event (March 19, 20) at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana brought together about 200 government and aerospace industry professionals. The summit served as an unprecedented forum to explore, discuss, and determine what the best strategy to safely and effectively fly the Space Shuttle fleet to support key missions until at least the middle of the next decade.

“The Service Life Extension Program is off to a good start,” said NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for International Space Station and Space Shuttle Programs Michael Kostelnik. “The SLEP Summit helped us establish the process for all the Shuttle Program stakeholders to decide what the most important areas of investment should be,” he said.

Summit participants heard from seven SLEP panels: Safety, Sustainability, Infrastructure, Aerospace Industry, Performance, Operations and Resources. The panel’s recommendations were consolidated and submitted to NASA’s Space Flight Leadership Council (SFLC) by the Integration Panel.

The SFLC, composed of NASA’s senior Space Flight leadership, identified 60 candidate projects, which are targeted at critical service life extension issues, for further consideration. A “Tiger Team” was chartered to prepare an internal submittal within 30 to 45 days to be vetted during NASA’s FY 2005 budget process this summer. The long-term strategy will be further refined at SLEP Summit II next year.

SLEP is a key component of the NASA’s Integrated Space Transportation Plan, which is a strategic roadmap for the agency’s future in space transportation, including current and future systems. The Summit also included discussion of the Shuttle fleet’s return to flight. The fleet was grounded after the loss of the Columbia orbiter and its crew on February 1. Planning for the SLEP Summit began before the Columbia accident. The Summit was dedicated to the memory of the STS-107 crew and the resolve to return to flight.

“Flying our mission safely is our top priority, especially when we talk about extending the life of the Shuttle fleet. And we have to improve safety, not simply maintain it, if we want to keep flying the Shuttle for another 15 years or so,” said Bill Readdy, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Flight. “Once the Columbia Accident Investigation Board has completed its investigation and determined the cause of the accident, all of their recommendations will be addressed and incorporated into our investment plan,” he said.

Additional information about SLEP is available on the Internet at: