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In the wake of the Columbia disaster, President George W. Bush called for retiring the shuttle fleet by 2010. NASA officials announced in August 2005 that they had decided to abandon the shuttle design principle and return to the use of traditional rockets to launch crew and cargo capsules. The capsules would be located atop the rockets. Falling foam debris would then not be a problem because the debris could not possibly strike the capsules. Two different sizes of rockets would be used, a smaller rocket to launch a crew of astronauts and a larger rocket to launch cargo capsules. Crew capsules would return to Earth by deploying parachutes after reentering the atmosphere, as in the early stages of space exploration, prior to the development of the first shuttle. Under the new plan NASA scheduled a total of 16 shuttle missions from 2006 until the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010.

In August 2006 NASA announced more details about the replacement for the shuttle. Lockheed Martin was chosen to design, build, and test the new manned capsule, which will be called Orion and which will carry six astronauts. The aerospace company will also provide an unmanned version to carry supplies and cargo to the International Space Station. Both craft will be launched to low-Earth orbit on the Ares I booster. Manned flights may not begin until 2012 or later. Unmanned test flights for the Ares I booster are scheduled to start in 2009. A heavy-lift version of the booster called Ares V will be used for future flights to the Moon and Mars.

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