Entries in Space Shuttles (3)


Space Shuttle Atlantis Launch: NASA Entering Its Own Black Hole?

NASA(WASHINGTON) -- As the Atlantis space shuttle blasted towards Space Friday, NASA laid to rest its famed Space Shuttle Program and entered what some in Congressional space committees are calling a "critical period" and "uncertain era." Experts just call it "The Gap."

"With the retired Shuttle Program, America's legacy as the unrivaled world leader in space exploration enters a new and uncertain era," House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo said in statement Friday. "NASA faces many new challenges to sustain America's leadership in space, especially during this difficult budgetary time."

After decades of American dominance in space exploration, the Atlantis shuttle flight brings the country into the first significant stretch of time in decades during which the U.S. will be unable, on its own, to put astronauts into space.

If the fears of some in Congress come true, a period of unprecedented drift for the space program could follow Friday's final Shuttle launch.

"With the retirement of the Space Shuttle, NASA will face a critical period and will need Congress's support and direction to focus its limited resources on sustaining America's leadership in space," House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Rep. Ralph Hall said Friday.

With no American vehicle capable of carrying astronauts into space, the U.S. will be forced to pay the Russians a steadily escalating price -- eventually hitting $62.7 million per seat -- to carry Americans and international partners to the International Space Station through 2016.

The public posture of NASA officials has been to focus on a modernized program that relies far more on private companies to handle the increasingly routine work of hoisting satellites and servicing the space station, while dedicating U.S. government resources to planning the more complex task of taking astronauts deeper into space.

But a June report from the Office of the Inspector General found that "NASA faces multiple challenges and risks as it expands its Commercial Crew Transportation program."

The report detailed a litany of challenges that come with relying on commercial companies to carry crews of astronauts into space.

Also, privately, political leaders are bemoaning what could be a deeply unsettling period during which the U.S. will have no way to put humans into space -- and efforts to reach more distant destinations appear hazy and uncertain. Some told ABC News they are worried that without a clear destination or proven spacecraft to get there, it could be a long, long time before a manned U.S. rocket heads for the heavens.

But President Obama is not put off by the end of the U.S. shuttle era.  On Friday, the president said that instead of aiming toward creation of a base on the Moon, as envisioned by his predecessor, he wants to target deep space.

“We’ve set a goal to let’s ultimately get to Mars. A good pit stop is an asteroid,” the President explained at a townhall meeting this week. “Let’s start stretching the boundaries so we’re not doing the same thing over and over again, but rather let’s start thinking about what’s the next horizon, what’s the next frontier out there.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NASA's Charles Bolden Gets Emotional on End of Space Shuttle Program

NASA/Bill Ingalls(WASHINGTON) -- Facing the end of his beloved Space Shuttle program, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden became emotional several times Friday when speaking about the future of the U.S. space program.

The final space shuttle is scheduled to take off July 8. Once the mission is completed, America will have to rely on the Russians to get its astronauts into orbit to the International Space Station.

The head of NASA discussed the future of his agency and U.S. manned spaceflight at a lunch Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Also in attendance was astronaut Mark Kelly, the commander of the previous shuttle mission and husband of Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., who was seriously wounded at an event with constituents in Tucson, Ariz., in January.

Bolden tried to be optimistic.

"Some say that our final shuttle mission marked the end of America's 50-year dominance in human space flight," he said. "As a former astronaut and the current NASA administrator, I am here to tell you that American leadership in space will continue for at least -- at least -- the next half century because we've laid the foundation for success."

Bolden was emphatic.

"For us at NASA, failure is not an option," he said.

The NASA administrator said the Space Station will remain in operation until at least 2020. And he talked about plans for missions to Mars, the Moon and to an asteroid.

"So when I hear people listen to the media reports and they say that the final shuttle flight marks the end of U.S. human space flight, I have to tell you: You all must be living on another planet," he said. "We are not ending human space flight."

Bolden wants to see private companies in the U.S. build and operate the rockets that will carry Americans into space. Bolden became emotional when remembering the shuttle astronauts who gave their lives in tragic accidents.

"We also remember the hard lessons that have helped us to continually improve safety," he said. "We shall always remember the crews of STS 51, Challenger, and STS 107, Columbia, who made the ultimate sacrifice."

Bolden repeatedly vowed to continue the manned space program.

"I spent 14 years at NASA," he said. "Some of the people I respect most in the world are my fellow astronauts. Some of my best friends died flying on the shuttle, and I am not about to let human spaceflight go away on my watch."

The NASA administrator said the end of the shuttle program won't mean the end of the U.S. space agency.

Getting emotional again, he said, "So when that final shuttle landing occurs and the cheers and tears subside, we will keep on moving toward where we want to go next. Your kids and my grandkids, they're going to do things that today we can barely dream of."

Former shuttle commander Mark Kelly announced his retirement from NASA and the Navy last month. Some have speculated he could have political ambitions -- something he joked about at the lunch.

"There has been quite a lot of speculation about what my plans are and if I plan to run for public office," he said. "I will go into more detail about that next week when I visit Iowa and New Hampshire," he added, to laughter.

But Kelly ruled out getting into politics, at least for the immediate future.

"My main focus right now and for the foreseeable future is Gabby's recovery and spending more time with my kids," he said at the lunch. "She is the politician and the family, and I am the space guy, and I see no reason to change that now."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Houston Snubbed: Shuttles Go to Smithsonian, Florida, California, New York

BRUCE WEAVER/AFP/Getty Images(HOUSTON) -- NASA, announcing where the space shuttles would go after they are retired this year, can't seem to win when it's losing.

The most conspicuous loser in the shuttle sweepstakes was Houston, the home of mission control and NASA's astronauts -- and the city is not taking it well.

This week NASA announced the shuttle Discovery would go to the Smithsonian Institution near Washington, Endeavour to the California Science Center in Los Angeles, and Atlantis to the Kennedy Space Center visitors' complex in Florida. New York City won the prototype shuttle Enterprise, which was used in early tests and will move from the Smithsonian.

And for Houston? Nothing. Or next to nothing: Space Center Houston, the museum down the road from Mission Control is getting two seats -- seats -- from a shuttle's flight deck.

"The thought of an Orbiter not coming home to rest at Space Center Houston is truly tragic," said Rep. John Culberson, a Texas Republican, in a statement. "It is analogous to Detroit without a Model-T, or Florence without a Da Vinci."

When Neil Armstrong radioed "one giant leap for mankind" from the moon, he was talking to Houston. This week the Houston Chronicle echoed him: "One Giant Snub for Houston."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, decided to do more than complain. He introduced a bill -- the "Space Shuttle Retirement Act" of 2011 -- ordering that the shuttles be sent to Florida, California, suburban Washington ... and Houston. He got nine co-sponsors, five of them from Texas.

Gen. Charles Bolden, the NASA administrator, said the agency was sending the shuttles to major tourist destinations, where more people would get to see them. Houston may be steamed, but it does get steamy there in the summer.

"This was a very difficult decision, but one that was made with the American public in mind," Bolden said on Tuesday. "In the end, these choices provide the greatest number of people with the best opportunity to share in the history and accomplishments of NASA's remarkable space shuttle Program."

There were 16 other museums or visitor centers that made bids for the shuttles, but the ones in Ohio and Oklahoma had to concede they were long shots. NASA did announce it was giving runners-up shuttle simulators, training mockups and rocket engines.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio