According to this CNN article, NASA’s 2003 budget is setting aside $2.4 billion for the completion, by 2004, of the design of a new space plane intended to ferry people in and out of space. Like the space shuttle it is intended to one day replace, the space plane will be a reusable spacecraft launched by expendable rockets, carrying up to 10 people.
The plan is for it to start operations between 2008 and 2010.
The creation of a new Space Plane will be welcome news to astronauts and Congress alike. To date, only three crew members have been allowed aboard the Space Station at a time, because the Russian Soyuz evacuation craft can only fit three people. Since maintaining and operating the station requires almost the full-time efforts of three people, very little actual science has been accomplished so far aboard the multibillion-dollar station. A 10-passenger space plane will allow more people to live aboard the station and conduct more research.