NASA Showcases New Spaceship

NASA's new spaceship
Going back to a familiar playbook, NASA is borrowing from the Apollo Program as it enters the next generation of manned space exploration. the "Constellation Program" to send a spacecraft back to the moon and beyond will be headquartered at the Johnson Space Center.

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NASA Administrator Michael Griffin admits the new crew exploration vehicle or CEV as it's called, looks a lot like vehicles that went to the moon back in the 60's and early 70's. "It may have a different-shaped heat shield. It may have a different surface contact system, but the outer mold-line is very Apollo-like, except larger. Think of it as Apollo on steroids," says Griffin.

Griffin says the new version will cost less, about 55-percent of what the original program cost in inflation-adjusted dollars. But the pricetag will still be steep, $104 billion dollars over a 13 year period, with the first mission to the moon as early as 2018. Griffin says the CEV will be about 10-times safer than the Space Shuttle. "What makes it safer from a lost-of-crew perspective is the abort system that this new vehicle has and the fact that, frankly, the two failure modes which caused the loss of Challenger and Columbia cannot happen on this vehicle due to the basic nature of its design," he says.

As it was during Apollo, JSC will play the biggest role in the new program, with both the overall Constellation Program the actual vehicle development based here.

About 10,000 people work at JSC, with 3,000 actual NASA employees and the rest contractors. JSC Director Jefferson Howell says the new program means good things for local workers. "The people with the skills that got us to the moon originally and who designed and built the shuttle, support it and the station are the same types of skills that we're going to need in the future," he says.

House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Sugar Land says with such a major program based in the Houston-area, economic development is sure to follow. "You're going to see people moving here and setting-up businesses and contractors moving here because this is where the action is, and so it will have an impact on local economic development," says Delay.

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Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...