John Glenn: Keep space shuttles flying

June 21, 2010 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer

(AP) -- Mercury astronaut John Glenn wants NASA's space shuttles to keep flying until a reliable replacement is ready, no matter how long it takes.

Glenn joined the national debate Monday over America's future in space and became the latest ex-astronaut to speak out on the matter. He issued a nine-page statement in which he questioned the decision to retire the shuttle fleet and rely on Russia to take astronauts to the .

"We have a vehicle here, why throw it away? It's working well," the first American to orbit Earth said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Glenn said he's against paying the Russians $55.8 million per person to fly U.S. astronauts to the space station and back. That's the price for a single ticket starting in 2013; right now, it's costing $26.3 million and will jump to $51 million next year.

Glenn doesn't believe the general public realizes what's happening on the space front.

"Going to Russia and being, in effect, under control of Russia for our space program just doesn't sit right with me and I don't think it sits well with the American people, or won't, either," said Glenn, a former U.S. senator who rode the shuttle into orbit in 1998 at age 77. He turns 89 next month.

Glenn said little if any money will be saved by canceling the , considering all the millions of dollars going to Russia for rocket rides. At least two shuttle flights a year could keep the station going and the work force employed, until something new comes along, he said.

The former astronaut wonders what will happen if there's an accident and Soyuz rockets are grounded. He supposes the space station - a $100 billion investment - would have to be abandoned. He also worries scientific research at the station will take a hit if experiments have to be launched from Russia and have no way of getting back to Earth in bulk.

President George W. Bush made the decision to retire the shuttles and retarget the moon, six years ago in the wake of the Columbia tragedy. President Barack Obama is holding on to the shuttle shutdown, while killing the moon effort.

Only two shuttle missions remain on the official lineup; the second almost certainly will be delayed into early next year. NASA is hoping the White House will add an extra flight next summer before ending the 30-year shuttle program.

Democratic Glenn supports Obama's plan, announced earlier this year, to keep the space station going until 2020 and to give up on a moon base for now. But the original Mercury 7 astronaut said the nation needs a rocketship capable of lifting heavy payloads - whether it's part of NASA's Constellation program or something else - if astronauts are ever to reach asteroids and Mars.

Private companies, meanwhile, interested in carrying astronauts back and forth to the space station need to first prove their capability and reliability, Glenn noted. "I'm very leery of this rush to commercialization," he said.

Glenn said he waited to go public because he thought "people would see the wisdom" of keeping the shuttle going.

"If we're going to do anything, if has to be done pretty quick," he said.

Explore further: NASA: Money key to more space shuttle flights

More information: John Glenn School of Public Affairs:


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3 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2010
I agree with Glenn.

Why retire our shuttle fleet and rely on Russia for travel to the International Space Station?

History shows that allies can become enemies and enemies can become allies.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
OKM, while I agree with you in principle here, the time for this discussion was several years ago. Already several crucial production lines have been closed and personnel have moved on to other jobs. The cost to rehire and reopen closed facilities would be economically prohibitive. And to those who may give Obama grief over this, I would note that it was Bush who initiated retirement of the Shuttle and underfunded its successor Constellation. Still, the end of an era. :(
1 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2010
We need a rocket designed for deep space missions. Unfortunately, the Shuttle is not suitable for this, mainly because it does not have any 200MW VASIMR engines.
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
@probes, maybe you could lobby for 200MW VASIMR engines in the design of the proposed heavy lift vehicle. :D
not rated yet Jun 22, 2010
If we are going to do anything quickly, then IMHO it has to be done commercially and outside the government bureaucracy. Nothing like the drive for profitability to move things along. With a truly concerted effort, I believe private industry could have something far superior to the Shuttle ready for action within two years.
3 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2010
OKM, while I agree with you in principle here, the time for this discussion was several years ago. . . . it was Bush who initiated retirement of the Shuttle and underfunded its successor Constellation. Still, the end of an era. :(

Thanks, yyz. I agree. Republican and Democratic politicians alike worked to end nationalistic wars. I support that objective, but not the means used.

The new one-world government should have been established openly, with the consent of the people, following principles like these:

" We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, . .

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