WASHINGTON – Forty-four members of Congress flew to Cape Canaveral for the scrubbed launch of space shuttle Discovery (search) at a cost of more than $73,000, according to figures provided to The Associated Press on Thursday.
Some lawmakers would be willing to try again once NASA sets a new launch date, but it depends on the congressional schedule.
The Air Force flew 35 lawmakers to Florida on Wednesday in two C40B aircraft (search), the equivalent of a 737-700 business jet. The cost, based on an hourly rate of $7,960, totaled $63,680, the service said. The round trip is about four hours.
NASA ferried nine House members in a smaller executive jet, similar to the type used by corporate executives. The space agency said the cost of that plane was $9,456.
The House and Senate members spent several hours on the ground getting briefed by top NASA officials and meeting with reporters before heading back to Washington.
NASA canceled the launch of Discovery about 21/2 hours before the scheduled liftoff, due to a faulty fuel gauge that read full when it should have read empty.
NASA said Thursday that it would not make another attempt to launch until Sunday at the earliest.
Most lawmakers will be in their home districts over the weekend, so it's doubtful that delegations could be organized for a Sunday launch. If there's a launch next week, House Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., would be interested in leading another delegation, committee spokesman Joe Pouliot said.
It is not clear whether the House's schedule would permit the trip, the spokesman added.
The leader of the Senate delegation, Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also would be willing to try again, her spokesman said.
"I can't say for sure but it's definitely a possibility," said the spokesman, Chris Paulitz.
Hutchison is chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee's science and space subcommittee.
One of the six senators in Hutchison's delegation, Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida, flew on the space shuttle when he was in the House. A delegation guest was former senator and astronaut John Glenn, D-Ohio.
Boehlert called the cancellation "a NASA success story" because the space agency identified the problem before the launch and is working on a solution.
Hutchison said, "We all agree with the decision to put safety first."
NASA said the launch scrub cost the space agency an estimated $616,000 in fuel and labor.