Heroic former astronauts and some current top managers are stepping up their criticism of an agency they see ending its only way to get astronauts into space and going nowhere fast. NASA’s chief counters that his agency is heading somewhere new for a change and dismisses critics as people who “must all be living on another planet.”
The critics say NASA is ignoring its own long-standing advice: Have a backup plan.
Once shuttle Atlantis has completed its mission, NASA won’t have a way to get into space for years except hitching a ride on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. A new design will come from private developers, but that will take at least three years, probably longer, experts believe.
First moonwalker Neil Armstrong, first American in orbit John Glenn, Mission Control founder Chris Kraft, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, first shuttle pilot Robert Crippen and others are pushing for a last minute reprieve for the about-to-be-retired space shuttle fleet. They’re even urging a delay of Friday’s final launch. They may get a delay of a day or two because of bad weather.
But the NASA veterans are looking for a pause of more than a year, until more shuttle parts are ready to keep flying and extend the 30-year program.
Back in June, as Atlantis headed to the launch pad, launch director Mike Leinbach on a live audio loop groused to his fellow workers “we’re all victims of poor policy out of Washington, D.C.,” for not having a new mission for the post-shuttle era.
That means there must be a backup system for getting into space and bringing astronauts home from the International Space Station.
Armstrong, Kraft and Lovell sent a letter June 30 to President Barack Obama and NASA chief Charles Bolden asking that they keep shuttles flying and delay this final launch. Glenn, who wasn’t involved in the letter campaign, is also calling it a mistake to end the space shuttle program _ planned since 2004.
Kraft said he considered a backup crucial as he ran Mission Control or oversaw the people who did _ missions from the Mercury days of the 1960s through early space shuttle days. He said it is still possible at this late date to put Atlantis’ final mission on hold while NASA builds new external fuel tanks and boosters for future shuttle flights _ a process that would delay the launch about 18 months.
“It’s a generational thing. It’s a culture thing and mostly it’s a political thing,” said Kraft, 87. Nearly all the signees of the letter are in their 70s and 80s. Glenn, who didn’t sign the letter, will turn 90 this month.
It’s a fight Kraft has waged for at least three years, pulling in Armstrong, 80, and others. Armstrong, in an email to The Associated Press, wrote: “Chris is an exceptional engineer and manager who has always been reliable in the many cases where he held the success or failure of American human space flight in his hands.” He wrote that if Kraft thinks this is too risky a plan, “I can readily accept that.”
“American leadership in space will continue at least for the next half century.” Bolden said. “We need future generations to do more than what we can do today. When that final shuttle landing occurs and the cheers and tears subside, we’ll keep on moving to where we want to go next.”View Entire Story
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