If they do not like the Russians ...
How about the Chinese?
Russian engineers believe they have rectified snags which have seen Soyuz spacecraft returning from orbit take up dangerous "ballistic" trajectories recently. The Soyuz is likely to be the only craft capable of carrying humans into space for the first half of the next decade. Aviation Week reports that NASA associate …
How about the Chinese?
"........worried that the next President will order NASA instead to continue Shuttle flights...."
He's worried that the merkins will elect someone who's not a complete plank who'd agree to handing total control of space access to a foreign power which is currently behaving in a less than friendly fashion toward the US?
Nah, never happen. He'll get an utter tool in the Oval Office who'll sign anything as long as it's stupid enough and has a bit of pork in the right places, as usual.
Why they don't make a brand spanking new shuttle in the mean time instead of trying to keep old ones on the go. They don't need new tech or designs (they can improve bits and bobs if they like) they don't need Russia, they don't need to risk using old shuttles and it could be ready relatively fast to fill the spacecraft gap. It would be inbetween the cost of a new design/testing etc. and repairing old ships whilst keeping control.
They must have thought of this, there must be a reason not to do what I have suggested?
The short answer is they are. But NASA doesn't have the budget to develop a new one while operating the current one at the same time. The shuttle is VERY expensive to own and operate!
In detail, here's what they're doing:
The shuttle will be canned in 2010. Hence forth NASA will buy flights through Russia.
Meanwhile NASA develops the Orion capsule and associated LV. The official deadline is 2015. (You may have also heard of their internal goal which was 2013 but got pushed back to 2014.)
At the same time, NASA and that Paypal guy are both flinging money at a company called SpaceX. SpaceX is developing a private, commercial spacecraft.
They're expecting to do their first logistical (cargo) flight to the station in 2010. (You can safely assume some delays as with absolutely any other engineering project!)
Eventually their Dragon capsule will carry people to the station too!
So the goal is to rely on the Russians so they can afford to get Orion and Dragon working.
Orion is optimized for flights beyond LEO to do the Big Missions to the Moon, Mars and possibly a Venus flyby as part of the Mars mission.
Dragon will handle the station - though if that doesn't work out Orion can handle station duty too.
Dragon can shuffle crews of 7 to the station and back. Orion can send crews of 4 to 6 to where the heck ever.
It boils down to $$$. NASA can keep the Shuttle but it will cost a few billion more every year and there is a pretty good chance that another one _will_ blow up.
Theres also no favors from vendors by buying more of an existing product.
If you want a nice retirement directorship or a bit more pork barrel funding you have to propose a bold new initiative. It doesn't matter if it is never delivered or doesn't work, you will have left by then with a record of initiating bold new initiaves.
No link to IT projects obviously.
It's just a white elephant anyway - the few bold projects proposed for it have been abandoned. Ground the shuttle, don't buy seats on Russian missions and use the savings to get Orion/Ares(which is which?) off the ground ASAP, preferably kicking off with a more ambitious mission than a visit to terrestrial orbit(I recommend shooting straight for Mars). Europe could also use the opportunity to get a real space program going.
"Mars or bust"