Former Shuttle Manager Reflects On What The Program Did, And Didn't, Accomplish

The countdown continues at Kennedy Space Center for the final flight of the space shuttle program. Atlantis is scheduled to lift off shortly before 10:30 am, Houston time. A former shuttle manager says the program accomplished quite a bit over the last three decades. But, he also says there was at least one big missed opportunity. David Pitman has more.

Wayne Hale served as flight director for more than 40 shuttle missions before rising to the rank of program manager.  He says the most notable achievement of the shuttle program is how it made space travel almost commonplace — with 135 flights over 30 years. 

"If you add up all the Soyuz and Apollos and all the other spacecraft, the shuttle has flown more — flown more people, flown more cargo.  It's just made it more routine."

Hale says when NASA officials first envisioned the shuttle 40 years ago, it was to be one part of an ambitious program that included a space station, and a permanent outpost on the moon — similar to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.   But that had to be scaled back because of the cost of the war in Vietnam, and the recession of the early 1970s.

ISS backdropped over Miami
The International Space Station (ISS) is backdropped over Miami, Florida, in this 35mm frame photographed by STS-108 Commander DomInic Gorie aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Photo credit: NASA

"So, out of all of that, we just got a space shuttle.  And it was another 15 or so years before we were authorized to build the space station.  So what we got was one piece of the infrastructure that we really had all hoped would be a much larger enterprise.  And that, to me, is the biggest missed opportunity."

Hale adds that his biggest regret as the shuttle program comes to an end is the loss of thousands of jobs in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere.  He says those workers, particularly here in Houston, may be able to transfer their skills to other industries, like energy or biomedicine.  But he believes it will be difficult for NASA to reassemble the kind of workforce it had during the shuttle program when it is ready to resume human spaceflight.

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

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