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More than a year ago, Obama and Bolden charted a new direction for NASA, sticking with President George W. Bush’s decision to retire the space shuttles. But Obama canceled Bush’s plan to return astronauts to the moon. Instead, NASA is designing a new rocket and capsule to take astronauts to an asteroid and eventually Mars. The Obama plan wants private companies to take over the job of shuttling astronauts to Earth orbit, and Bolden thinks that could happen by 2015.

But some of NASA’s own managers aren’t sitting quietly with the changes.

“Throughout the history of the manned spaceflight program we’ve always had another program to transition into. .. we had that and it got canceled and we don’t have anything,” launch manager Leinbach told his fellow workers at Kennedy Space Center. “Frankly as a senior NASA manager I would like to apologize that we don’t have that.”

Paul Hill, who oversees mission operations in Houston, was just as critical: “It isn’t clear at all that we are going to transition to anything.”

Lining up with Bolden and the president are the widows and widower of the astronauts who died in the 1986 Challenger accident. In a letter supporting the new NASA direction, they called the commercialization of space a 21st Century approach: “This is a century with new challenges and also new opportunities.”

Scott Parazynski, a 49-year-old former astronaut who heads the educational center created by Challenger families, said in an email that he agrees with Kraft that NASA shouldn’t be left without a backup to the Soyuz, but disagrees with the idea of delaying the shuttle retirement.

“The cards have been dealt, and even though we may not all like the cards we’ve gotten, we’ve got to play,” Parazynski wrote. “I see a path forward that gives American industry (new enterprise as well as established aerospace) and NASA a bright future.”

The American public apparently wants the U.S. to continue to be a space leader. According to a poll by the Pew Research Center released Tuesday, 58 percent of Americans think it’s essential the nation continue as a leader in space.

For his part, Glenn said he doesn’t disagree with Obama’s plans, although he said he believes private spaceflight will take years longer than Bolden predicts. What Glenn objects to is the gap between the shuttle and a future spacecraft. While the Soyuz is reliable, Glenn said NASA should always want an alternative in case of a “hiccup” in the Soyuz plans.

“I think we should be keeping the shuttle going,” Glenn said. “It’s the most complicated vehicle ever put together by people.”