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

Video On The Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime bombardment, VOA correspondent finds More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid