Tag Archives: space shuttle

Ex-astronaut: Space Force ‘redundant’ and ‘wasteful’

That settles it. Donald Trump’s idea of establishing a new military branch is a non-starter. If you’ll pardon the pun, it shouldn’t get off the ground.

He wants to create a Space Force, which would operate in outer space. According to one notable former astronaut, the idea is “redundant” and “wasteful.”

So said Mark Kelly, a former shuttle and International Space Station astronaut. I want to add that Kelly also is married to former U.S. Rep. Gabby Gifford of Arizona, who was gravely wounded  when she suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Kelly and Gifford have become staunch gun-control advocates and have become as well staunch foes of Donald Trump.

That all said, Kelly offers an expert’s view of this Space Force idea.

“There is a threat out there,” Kelly said, “but it’s being handled by the U.S. Air Force today, doesn’t make sense to build a whole other level of bureaucracy in an incredibly bureaucratic [Defense Department],” he added.

The Space Force idea is too expensive, especially at a time when we’re acquiring even more national debt and while the annual budget deficit is exploding. Moreover, it makes no sense to duplicate the efforts to patrol outer space by existing military branches, which — by the way — are the finest in the world.

Let’s ground the Space Force before it takes off.

Film reminds us of space race thrill

We just returned from watching a film that reminds me of the excitement of an earlier time.

I wish we could gin it up once again.

“Hidden Figures” is a story about a math genius, a computer genius and a budding engineer — all of whom are African-American women — who go to work for NASA in the early 1960s. The space race was getting revved up. The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik and sent Yuri Gagarin around the world in a 100-minute orbit. The United States was still trying to figure out how to launch its Redstone rocket that would take Alan Shepard on a 15-minute up-and-down flight into space before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

They needed this young math whiz to figure out landing coordinates. Taraji P. Henson portrays Katherine Goble Johnson, the math genius who is asked to verify the coordinates where John Glenn’s spacecraft is supposed to land after completing a few orbits around the planet.

The film relays the sense of urgency we felt then. President Kennedy implored the nation to pursue space flight “not because it is easy … but because it is hard.”

It occurred to me while watching the film with my wife that our recent presidential campaign didn’t produce a single policy statement or pledge — that I heard, at least — from either Donald J. Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton about restoring and resuming the U.S. manned space program.

The candidates were too busy insulting each other and impugning each other’s integrity to spend time talking about much of anything of substance.

I consider manned space flight a fairly substantive issue to pursue.

The United States scrapped its space shuttle program and is now hitching rides aboard Russian space ships into Earth orbit. I’m trying to imagine how Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would feel about that particular turn of events.

Even during his farewell speech to the nation Tuesday night, President Obama said not a single thing about the future of space flight. I wish he would have at least offered an ode to the future of manned space exploration as something future presidents and Congresses should pursue.

The film we watched today affirms to me that this nation has it within its soul and spirit to reach farther than ever before. We’ve landed on the moon. We made space flight “routine,” through those shuttle missions, if you believe a program that took the lives of 14 astronauts should ever deserve to be considered routine.

NASA is developing a deep-space craft that is supposed to take human beings to Mars, or perhaps to one of the asteroids, or perhaps to one of Jupiter’s moons.

I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see that happen. I damn sure hope so. The film we saw today has reinvigorated my desire to see us reach beyond our comfort zone yet again.

Let’s get back into space

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John Glenn’s death reminded many of us old enough to remember such things about how space travel once thrilled the nation.

It was a new thing back then, when Glenn orbited the planet three times in just a little less than five hours. We were riveted to our TV screens. We held our breath. We prayed for the safe return of these men.

Then, oh so strangely, space flight became “routine.” Routine! Are you kidding me?

How ridiculous! You put human beings on top of a missile loaded with flammable fuel, light the rocket and hurl these humans into orbit at 17,000 mph. That becomes routine?

We launched men into orbit during the Mercury space program. Then came the Gemini program that featured two-person space ships. After that, it was the big one, the Apollo program that sent men to the moon.

Those missions became so “routine” that the space agency stopped sending men to the moon, apparently believing they had done all they could do.

Skylab came later. The space shuttle program followed that.

About six years ago, we grounded the remaining shuttle fleet — after two of the ships, Challenger and Columbia, were lost, killing 14 crew members. Routine? Hardly.

I’m recalling the adventure associated with John Glenn’s first flight into space and hoping for a time when we can send human beings back into space aboard our own rocket ships. Today, we’re relying on Russia to ferry our men and women into Earth orbit — and I’m trying to imagine how President Kennedy, who challenged the nation to put men on the moon by the end of the 1960s, would react that knowledge.

I came of age watching the space program take flight. I am old enough to remember how these missions forced us all to hold our breath when these heroes were thrown into space.

The next step awaits. It no doubt will involve sending humans way past the moon and toward places like Mars. I hope to live long enough to see that occur.

I will wait anxiously for a day when we can view spaceflight once again as the spine-tingling adventure it’s always been.

Get well, Sen. Glenn

I just heard that former U.S. Sen. John Glenn is in the hospital.

He’s 95 years of age now. He has lived an extraordinary life.

Marine Corps fighter pilot during the Korean War; test pilot; astronaut selected among the first men to fly into space; the first American to orbit planet Earth; U.S. senator; a return to space on the space shuttle Discovery.

The video here chronicles the launch of Glenn’s second trip into space. It took place in 1998, 36 years after he flew those three orbits aboard the Mercury spacecraft.

I get choked up every time I hear the space flight communicator announce the launch of “six astronaut heroes and one American legend.”

Get well, Sen. Glenn.

Hoping for a return of manned space program

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The thought just occurred to me that of the original men chosen to fly into space, only one of them remains among us.

He is John Glenn, who’s now 94 years of age.

From what I understand, Glenn remains in good physical condition. But, hey, he is 94. At that age, you live one day at a time, or so many of the 90-somethings I’ve known have told me.

What troubles me particularly about Glenn’s advanced age is that once he leaves us, there will no one left from that exhilarating time who can argue forcefully for the return of the manned space program in this country.

John Glenn: still a legend

The Bush administration announced plans to retire the space shuttle program and then the Obama administration followed through with the plan. Two of the shuttles were destroyed by tragic accidents, leaving just three ships in use: Atlantis, Endeavor and Discovery. Challenger blew up shortly after liftoff in January 1986 and Columbia — with Amarillo’s Rick Husband in command — disintegrated upon re-entry in February 2003.

After the final shuttle mission — the flight of Atlantis in July 2011 — U.S. astronauts have been ferried into space aboard Russian rockets to spend time in the International Space Station. Think of that for a moment. During the height of the space race, of which Glenn was a major player, it would seem unthinkable that we’d ever have to depend on our adversary to take our astronauts into space.

We’re not hearing much talk during this presidential election campaign about the future of manned space travel. We don’t know whether Republican Donald J. Trump or Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton will light the fire that re-ignites our national pride in the effort to explore beyond the bounds of our planet.

I know that NASA is working on a new launch vehicle that will take humans into space. I understand the space agency has plenty of work on its plate; it has unmanned probes to launch and plenty of research to complete. NASA, though, seems to be working in a closet. Does anyone ever hear updates, progress reports on the development of that launch vehicle?

Americans have few legends who can speak with authority on such things. John Glenn — who later served several terms as a U.S. senator from Ohio — is one of them who can speak with clarity and credibility on the value that space exploration brings to us.

If only we could keep him around forever.

We cannot, of course.

I get that we have a lot of pressing issues that are consuming presidential candidates’ time and attention.

My hope is that we will start hearing from one or both of the major candidates about how they intend to accelerate our return to space exploration.

I relished those mornings awaiting those flights by John Glenn and his early astronaut colleagues. I’m ready to get excited once again.

It's been 45 years since that 'giant leap'

Allow me this admission: I didn’t do much thinking Sunday about the 45th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon.

I was too busy traveling home from a glorious weekend with my family.

And to be frank, thinking of that day saddens me a little. It’s not because of the event itself. The late Neil Armstrong’s first step off the Apollo 11 lunar lander was captivating at a level I’d never experienced. “One giant step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind” became a mantra to be repeated by proud Americans everywhere.

No, the sadness comes in realizing where we’ve gone — or not gone — in the decades since then.

We landed a few more times on the moon, had a near-tragedy when Apollo 13 exploded en route — only to be brought home in a miraculous seat-of-the-pants rescue effort. Alan Shepard, America’s first man in space, got to land on the moon and hit that golf shot that went miles.

Those were heady times.

Then the missions became “routine.” How sad. NASA pulled the plug after Apollo 17. It embarked on the Skylab mission to test humans’ long-term endurance in space. Then came the space shuttle experiment, with its huge highs and devastating tragedy.

Then it ended. The shuttle fleet is retired. We’re piggybacking into space aboard Russian rockets.

I admit to longing for the days when we could get re-inspired the way we were when President Kennedy made it the national goal to “put a man on the moon before the decade (of the 1960s) is out and return him safely to the Earth.” We had that big, bad Soviet Union to race to the moon. We won that contest.

Now there’s some vague talk about going to Mars — eventually. Why “vague” talk? Because one hardly ever hears anything publicly about what’s going on. NASA engineers are toiling in obscurity — apparently — designing a vehicle to take humans to the next planet out there in our solar system.

My late mother and I spent many mornings awaiting the launches of the early space missions. Mercury and Gemini preceded the Apollo program. We agonized over the delays. Cheered at the launch. Wept with joy when the men landed safely in the ocean.

I’ve never grown tired of watching these vehicles lift off from the pad and roar into space. It pains me that the nation became bored with it.

I am grateful to have watched humanity’s first steps on the moon. I surely now want to live long enough to hear someone say, “Houston, we have landed on Mars.”