This photo of Endeavor, taken from a Soyuz capsule departing the ISS is all the evidence needed to make a case for something I thought made sense from the moment I heard they were retiring the Shuttles.
The International Space Station and the Docked Space Shuttle Endeavour | Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Retire a Shuttle in place. It costs astronomical amounts of money to lift anything into orbit. The bigger, the heavier, the more fuel/money. Take a look at that picture of Endeavor. It's huge. Further up the structure of the ISS there are two small Soyuz capsules docked.
- The amount of crew space available on the ISS would more than double.
- It has all of the life support equipment already tested and functioning.
- It has three honking big engines that could be used (as they have in the past) to put the station on a higher orbit.
- It can be sealed and separated to be used as a life boat in a catastrophic emergency
It just makes sense to leave it up there. Even if we had to pay for an additional Soyuz launch to return the crew to earth, this would be cheaper than the recovery and decommissioning of Shuttle Atlantis.