[. . .]
Having fewer shuttle flights than originally expected will spell trouble for some parts of the station and will result in what is euphemistically described as "alternative configurations". But NASA will have to balance what is needed today with what it wants tomorrow. Fewer flights will result in large cost savings (the shuttle absorbs almost a third of NASA's $16 billion annual budget). This money could be spent on accelerating the creation of the shuttle's replacement, the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV). This is much on the mind of Mike Griffin, the agency's new administrator.
[. . .]
However, the current version of the 2006 NASA authorisation bill requires the agency to keep the shuttle flying until its replacement vehicle has flown. If this language is not modified, it spells bad news for NASA because the agency will need to run two space-vehicle programmes side by side-something it does not have the money to do. NASA is currently planning to phase out the shuttle and phase in the CEV. This is likely to mean a gap between one vehicle and the next.
Yet NASA's human space programme has had a two-and-a-half-year gap and the sky has not fallen in. And, while the shuttle may be the safest it has ever been, it will always be an overdesigned and fragile flying Ming vase compared with Russia's Soyuz. The sooner it is retired, the better.
I've been saying this for years and it's nice to see it validated by those with quite a bit more education than I have.
Just an aside, I finally broke down and got a subscription to The Economist. I don't know why I bothered with Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report, whose subscriptions I will let lapse. It's worth the extra bread.