News / Science & Technology

Veteran Astronauts Look Beyond Space Shuttle Program

Space shuttle Discovery - the world's most traveled spaceship - thunders into orbit for the final time as it heads toward the International Space Station on a journey that marks the beginning of the end of the shuttle era, at the Kennedy Space Center in C
Space shuttle Discovery - the world's most traveled spaceship - thunders into orbit for the final time as it heads toward the International Space Station on a journey that marks the beginning of the end of the shuttle era, at the Kennedy Space Center in C

Multimedia

Kane Farabaugh

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, plans to end the 30-year-old Space Shuttle program later this year. For the first time since the United States put a man in space, it will not immediately have a vehicle available to get astronauts into orbit, or to the International Space Station. Several veteran astronauts are concerned about the immediate future of the U.S. space program.

"The vast loneliness is awe-inspiring and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth," said Jim Lovell, who became one of the first astronauts to orbit the moon during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968 as millions of people on Earth watched in awe. It put the U.S. space program closer to landing a man on the moon, something it accomplished a year later.

"I run into people now in their early 50s or 40s who were kids when I made my flights, and they say, ‘You know, you were the inspiration that got me into being an engineer, or scientist,' or something like that," said Lovell.

One of those inspired was Pamela Melroy, who became an astronaut and commanded the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2007.

"I believe Apollo inspired generations of students, and I think the Space Shuttle will too," said Melroy.

Lovell is concerned, though, that without a space shuttle, or a U.S.-made replacement vehicle, a new generation will not benefit from the inspiration and enthusiasm generated by a robust space program.

"I have been a critic of the way the space program is going because it’s been a major part of my life and I’d like to see it continue," he said. "I’m afraid that everything is going to bog down."

The end of the shuttle program began in 2003, when the orbiter Columbia disintegrated while returning to Earth. All seven astronauts died.  Melroy was on the team that investigated the disaster.

"I think the tragedy of Columbia was such a scar for all of us, that I think that there are a lot of people who believed the shuttle was ultimately too flawed to continue to fly," she said. "I’m not sure if I necessarily agree. I do think it was time to go on and go out of low Earth orbit, but I think the mishap did at least remind everybody that it is a dangerous business."

Another motive behind ending the shuttle program was the rising cost. NASA says the price tag for a shuttle launch is about $450 million. Lovell points out that the money funds jobs and spurs development on Earth.

"Not one cent is spent in space. It’s all spent right here on Earth. And it’s spent to do things that will result in new technology for not just activities in space, but that spread throughout the entire infrastructure of this country," said Lovell.

President Barack Obama unveiled his vision for the U.S. manned space flight program last year. It involves developing technology that will someday put an American on Mars, but not back on the moon. Melroy thinks that should be reconsidered.

"It’s really hard to make a six-month trip without at least a little bit of practice, so the moon is kind of an obvious choice. An asteroid is an equally obvious choice. I think actually they have technical pros and cons, but I think that you are going to see, before we make that giant leap, super giant leap, out to Mars, we’re going to have to practice somewhere first," said Melroy.

Obama’s vision for future space flight also encourages private companies to develop the next generation of vehicles that will put humans in orbit. Right now, U.S. astronauts will have to rely on Russian-built Soyuz space capsules to get to and from the International Space Station.

"And they are charging us $60 million apiece, but I kind of think that in the long run will be fairly inexpensive compared to all the money we are going to put into all these private people to do the same thing," he said.

NASA recently awarded $75 million to Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to develop a successor to the Space Shuttle. The company says its vehicle, which was successfully tested in December, can put astronauts into orbit at a cost of $20 million each. Their Dragon capsule will be able to carry the same compliment as a shuttle - seven people - into orbit at a time.

SpaceX plans to fly its first manned mission into space in 2014, three years after the last Space Shuttle orbits the Earth.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More