Monday, June 21, 2010

Fmr. Astronaut & US Senator John Glenn: America Should Continue Flying Its Shuttles

On Monday, June 21, 2010, John Glenn released an eight-page open letter expressing his concerns about the future of the American space program.

According to Glenn, the United States shouldn't retire its fleet of Space Shuttles but instead continue flying them.  The shuttle fleet is scheduled to be fully retired either at the end of this year or early next year.  When that happens, the United States will be left without its own source of travel to and from the International Space Station for a very long time.

Glenn believes that the current shuttles are capable of continuing space flight carrying American astronauts into space and delivering astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station rather than the United States relying on, and paying, the Soviet Union to perform those tasks.  When the shuttle fleet retires, American astronauts will be hitching rides on the Soviet Soyuz for a fee.  Glenn believes the United States will spend almost as much paying the Soviets as they would sending their own vessels into space.

Glenn fears that a possible failure of the Soviet Soyuz, the only craft capable of taking astronauts to the space station apart from the US shuttles, could cause the space station to be abandoned.  If the station went uninhabited for a long period of time, it might lose altitude and break apart endangering people on Earth if pieces fell onto the planet.

Mr. Glenn isn't the only former astronaut who has voiced concerns over the future of the American space program.  Over twenty astronauts have signed statements protesting the current NASA policy, formulated by the Obama administration.  The policy calls for the shuttles to be permanently grounded, the Ares 1 rocket project canceled and the United States relies on the Soviet Union for transportation to the International Space Station.

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth in 1962.  He served as a Democratic senator from Ohio from 1975 to 1999.  In 1998, at the age of 77, he returned to space becoming the oldest human being in orbit.  Glenn has since retired.

For more information, including a bit of background about the planned grounding of the NASA Shuttles and the current NASA policy, please see the Technology and Science article.

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