Tag Archives: shuttle program

There he goes again … taking undue credit

There he was yet again, Donald John “Braggart in Chief” Trump taking credit he doesn’t deserve for the return of the U.S. manned space program.

Trump slathered himself with praise over the successful launch Saturday of the SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., saying that only on his watch could this effort have become a reality.

Actually, it was the result of an effort began a decade ago during the Barack H. Obama administration, which in fact was a continuation of an effort started during the George W. Bush administration.

According to National Public Radio: “Today is the culmination of three and a half years of renewed leadership in space,” said Vice President Pence, who called the launch “a tribute to the vision and leadership of a president who, from the very first days of this administration, was determined to revive NASA and American leadership in human space exploration.”

C’mon, man! Get real!

Yes, I have lamented the end of the space shuttle program, even with its two disastrous missions — Challenger’s explosion in 1986 and Columbia’s disintegration in 2003. However, the SpaceX program initiated by Elon Musk now holds a huge new promise of manned space flight for the United States, as it was demonstrated Saturday with the launch and the successful docking today with the International Space Station.

It has been many years in the making, long before Donald Trump soiled the presidency with his presence in the Oval Office.

But that wouldn’t dissuade Trump and Pence from taking undue credit. Hey, it’s an election year … so I’ll presume that everything now becomes fair campaign game.


‘Humans have to explore’

Binge-watching TV while we’re holed up during a worldwide health pandemic has delivered a curious dividend. A Netflix series, “A Year in Space,” has given me some grist for a blog I intend to share.

I now am filled with a newly heightened desire to see Americans restart its manned space program. We rely on Russian technicians to haul American astronauts into space, which I am sure would send Presidents Kennedy and Johnson — pardon the intentional pun — into orbit.

“A Year in Space” tells the story of astronaut Scott Kelly’s year-long mission aboard the International Space Station. It talks of his preparation, the launch, the trials and travails of living in the most controlled environment imaginable, of the return to Earth and his reacquainting himself with the sights, sounds and smells of the Earthly environment.

He spoke occasionally throughout the 12-part series about “when” we send human beings to Mars. I want to be among the living and breathing when that event occurs.

I grew up worshiping the seven men selected to be the first Americans to fly into space. I still know their names. I can tell you the sequence of when six of them flew aboard the Mercury space capsules; the seventh, Deke Slayton, was grounded initially because of a heart murmur, but he would fly in 1975 aboard an Apollo-Soyuz mission with his American astronaut comrades and the Soviet team they would meet in Earth orbit.

My heart seemed to stop when Apollo 13 suffered the near catastrophe in 1970 and cheered when the crew landed safely.

My heart broke when the shuttle Challenger blew up after its launch in 1986 and when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

Then the U.S. manned program ended when the remaining shuttle fleet was grounded.

Jeffrey Kluger, a senior writer at Time magazine and author of a book on the Apollo 13 mission, said it well at the end of the “A Year in Space” series. “Humans have to explore,” he said. “Only the target changes.” He said we had the oceans, the highest peaks, unsettled wilderness.

What’s left for us? It sits way past the moon.

With that, I want to offer a heartfelt thank you to Netflix for filling my heart with hope that we’ll embark on the next great exploratory mission.

Mars is waiting.

Another astronaut-hero leaves us

There once was a time when Americans knew the names of all the astronauts who dared to risk it all for the cause of space exploration.

John Young was one of those men. He died this weekend at age 87. I am saddened to hear this news.

Those of us of a certain age remember waiting with bated breath while space ships launched from Florida and flew into the heavens. Those were exciting times. The nation was engaged in a space race with the Soviet Union. We won the race … eventually.

Young wasn’t among the first seven men picked to fly into space. The Mercury Seven all are gone now. The last member of that original group to pass from the scene was the great John Glenn, the former Ohio U.S. senator who flew aboard the shuttle Discovery 36 years after he became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962.

John Young was among the Gemini astronauts who followed the Mercury heroes into space. Young flew twice aboard Gemini missions.

Then he got to fly to the moon twice; he orbited the moon aboard Apollo 10 and then walked on its surface as the commander of Apollo 16.

Oh, but Young wasn’t done.

NASA developed the space shuttle, a reusable ship. Young got to command the first shuttle, Columbia, on its maiden flight in 1981. He would command a second shuttle flight later before joining NASA’s administrative team before retiring in 2004.

A reporter asked Young after he flew the Columbia to a safe landing after its first flight whether he landed it manually — or whether he let the computer land it. No pilot worth a damn, Young said, would want to let a computer do something that a pilot could do by himself. That was his way of saying he had his hands “on the stick” when he guided the shuttle Columbia home.

John Young quite clearly was made of the right stuff.

Another space hero leaves us

Eugene Cernan wasn’t among the seven original astronauts chosen to fly into space. He was, though, among the second group, the men who would fly aboard the two-person Gemini craft.

Cernan died today at age 82 and I want to say “so long” to another space hero.

I have two distinct memories of Eugene Cernan while watching the space program launch Americans into space — when we used to hold our breath waiting for their safe return.


Cernan flew aboard the Apollo 10 mission in May 1969. He and mission commander Tom Stafford separated the lunar lander from the command ship as the assembly neared the moon’s surface. The lander began gyrating violently and Cernan could be heard over the radio cursing like the sailor he was as he and Stafford fought to regain control of the craft.

Routine? Hardly. That mission was the setup for the historic Apollo 11 moon landing flight two months later.

A dozen years after that, Cernan was providing expert broadcast commentary as the space shuttle Columbia would launch on the maiden voyage of the shuttle program.

As Columbia’s rocket ignited and the ship lifted off the pad toward Earth orbit, you could hear Cernan cheer Columbia on, yelling: “Fly … fly like an eagle!”

Cernan would be the last man to leave footprints on the moon as he commanded the Apollo 17 mission. NASA canceled the rest of the program.

I long for the day when we can restore our manned space program and hope as well we can revive the pithy excitement expressed by Eugene Cernan.


‘The Eagle has landed’


I might be the only person in America who did not watch Apollo 11 land on the moon via CBS News’s legendary coverage of the event.

I was tuned in that day to NBC News. I heard the late Frank McGee intone, simply: “Man … is on the moon.”

But the link here is of the CBS coverage of the event, which occurred 46 years ago today.

It brings to mind this simple truth: We grew complacent about space travel over the years.

We launched a space race to the moon with the then-Soviet Union. President Kennedy had declared in 1961 that the goal would to be to “put a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth” by the end of the 1960s. We got there in the seventh month of the final year of that decade.

It was an exciting time. It was fraught with peril. But we knew that and at some level accepted the risk as part of the grand strategy, the goal. We had to beat those dreaded Soviets and by golly, we did!

The lunar program would end in 1972. NASA couldn’t justify spending so much money on missions that had grown — this is he word they used — “routine.”

There could be nothing routine about putting human beings atop a flaming rocket carrying thousands of pounds of fuel and sending them into outer space.

Tragedy would strike later. We’d go through the Skylab program. Then came the shuttle missions. Challenger blew apart on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven crew members. On Feb. 1, 2003, Columbia disintegrated on its return from space, killing seven more crew members.

Routine? Hardly.

But on that glorious summer day in 1969, two men — the late Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin — had us holding our breath as they walked into history.