Astronauts Say Space Flight Must Continue

The end of the Space Shuttle Program may be drawing near, but Astronauts are making it clear space exploration is far from over. Bill Stamps spoke with two astronauts who flew on the shuttle Discovery's final mission earlier this year.


At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the STS-133 crew takes a break from a simulated launch countdown to ham it up for a group photo on the 195-foot level of Launch Pad 39A. From left to right: Pilot Eric Boe, Mission Specialist Michael Barratt, Commander Steve Lindsey, and Mission Specialists Tim Kopra, Nicole Stott, and Alvin Drew. 

(Liftoff of space shutle Discovery...)

Mission STS 133 was the last time the Shuttle Discovery would ever fly. Astronauts Nicole Stott and Alvin Drew had the privilege of being on that final mission. Drew says people must remember that the end of the shuttle is not the end of NASA.

"A lot of the misperception I get out there is the shuttle program is coming to an end; and therefore, NASA and U.S. exploration of space is coming to an end, and nothing could be farther from the truth."

When it comes to space exploration, the U.S is divided into two groups: those who think we are spending too much money on space and those who think we need to spend more and push the envelope.

Stott says most people would be amazed if they knew all the things we use on earth that have some sort of connection to NASA.

"I think one of the things we need to do is like a little presentation on what if you never had the space program. What would life be like for you here on Earth if you never had the space program?"

(..."this is discovery’s last minutes of flight...")

Some people see space missions as wastes of money — billions of dollars spent to experiments on rocks. But Stott says every experiment on the space station has a goal of making life better for everyone on Earth.

"From the standpoint of, how do we do things in space better and get further away from our planet, and 'oh, by the way,' how do we make life on earth better on earth as well? There was nothing I did up there that didn’t have that two-fold thing going on with it, and I think there are very few things you can look at that we’re doing down here or within other programs that are getting a heck of a lot more money that NASA does that can benefit us in that way."

Neither astronaut knows for sure how the space station or a trip to Mars will make our country better years from now. But Drew says just doing it makes us better. He points to the early days of NASA as proof.

"We took our best and brightest people and we worked them hard. We ran this country. We flexed this country’s muscles very hard and we got very stronger and very good, and we had this explosion of technology in the 70’s and 80’s because of the heavy lifting we did in the 1960’s to get ourselves into space. We got to be very lean and strong, and so if you want a country to be great, it has to continue to do do great things and you have to take on great goals. And for us space exploration was one of those things that make our country great."

(…shuttle landing...)

Stott and Drew were part of the last crew to ever use Discovery.  Soon it and the others will be exhibits at museums. The two space veterans are adamant that this is not the end of Americans in space.

"I have no doubt that we are going to get there. We’re going to continue to do great things. It might be in different ways than we’ve done before but I cannot believe that we as a country as a people who are used to those kinds of things happening for us are going to be willing to give up on it."

NASA announcer: "And nose gear touchdown and the end of an historic journey. And to the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say farewell Discovery."  

Discovery's final landing

The drogue chute unfurls behind space shuttle Discovery on Runway 15 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Landing of Discovery March 28, 2009, completed the 13-day, 5.3-million mile journey on the STS-119 mission to the International Space Station. Main gear touchdown was at 3:13:17 p.m. EDT. Nose gear touchdown was at 3:13:40 p.m. and wheels stop was at 3:14:45 p.m. Discovery delivered the final pair of large power-generating solar array wings and the S6 truss segment. The mission was the 28th flight to the station, the 36th flight of Discovery and the 125th in the Space Shuttle Program, as well as the 70th landing at Kennedy. Photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder March 28, 2009.