Legendary Astronaut John Glenn Speaks Out On Shuttle Decommissioning

Article written: 8 May , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

On Tuesday, to help out with the 50-year anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, clips from 100 hours of restored archive footage of NASA missions were made public. At the screening, John Glenn, America’s first astronaut to orbit the Earth, watched the clips and had time to reminisce over the administration’s “Glory Years”. He also had a very strong message for the policy makers: Extend the Shuttle program and re-commit to a long-term investment in the International Space Station. As a former Marine, Mercury astronaut, pilot and US senator, that’s a hard message to ignore…

In 1962 John Glenn made history. He became NASA’s first astronaut to orbit the Earth, and third US astronaut to travel into space. Starting out as part of the pioneering Mercury Program, Glenn served NASA until 1964 and then entered politics. In 1974 he became a US Senator where he continued till 1999. Add these accolades to his career as a US Marine pilot through World War II and the Korean War in the 1950’s, Glenn has seen more his fair share of action in the air and in space. Not wanting to end his space-faring experiences, at age 77, Glenn was launched on board Space Shuttle Discovery and became the oldest ever person in space in 1998.

The Mercury 6 mission to send Glenn into orbit in 1962 (NASA)

On Tuesday, John Glenn attended NASA’s 50th anniversary celebrations on Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. and watched archival footage of the historic achievements of NASA. This included a 1965 clip of astronaut Ed White, taking the first American space walk outside the Gemini IV module. In the clip, White loses a space glove and it is seen floating off into space.

However, under the pride and excitement of the proceeds, there was an air of concern for NASA’s future. Glenn took this opportunity to share his views on the current funding climate for US space missions. In 2015, NASA plans to reduce its commitment to the $100 billion International Space Station, Glenn views this as a lost opportunity.

The investment we have up there and the potential for learning new things are tremendous at a time when we’re coming under additional global competition.” The International Space Station is “the greatest, most complex laboratory ever put together.” – John Glenn

John Glenn before his historic flight on board the Shuttle at age 77 (NASA)

He was also critical of the decision to retire the Shuttle fleet in 2010, forcing the US to rely more on the Russian space program to supply the station. “The shuttles may be old, but they’re still the most complex vehicle ever put together by people, and they’re still working very well,” he added. Glenn says the benefits of supporting an extension to the Shuttle program will far outweigh the negatives, there is simply no way of knowing where the US will stand politically with Russia in the future, depending on another nation for the lifeline into space could be problematic.

When we are completely dependent on them for our transportation back and forth, it means we are also subject to the whims they may have politically, as different things happen in the world that have nothing to do with the space program.” – Glenn

Sometimes it takes a NASA legend to highlight the issues facing the future of space flight, let’s just hope someone takes John Glenn’s words on board…

Source: USA Today


13 Responses

  1. Michael Lonergan says

    In the 1960’s, we were able to develop the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Programs, culminating in a Lunar landing in 1969. The next generation of launcher, The Constellation Program, will not be ready to go until 2015, at the earliest. With today’s technological advances, that seems ludicrous. Surely this Program can be fast-tracked? I’m not sure extending the Shuttle Program is the answer. God forbid, one more accident resulting in the loss of both vehicle and crew will ground the manned program, possibly for a decade or longer.

  2. John Mendenhall says

    I’m with John Glenn. Keep ’em going.

  3. Damo Nair says

    I don’t get it. 2 out 100+ Shuttle flights ended in
    disaster! Is this failure rate not very high, in terms of
    human toll & money?

  4. ToSeek says

    If the ISS were such a great laboratory, you’d think they’d actually be able to do some science with it. Hubble does far more science for a sliver of the cost.

  5. Astrofiend (Syd, Aust) says

    The US reliant on Russia for manned space launches, eh? They must be loving that!

    It really isn’t too hard to envision a future where such a move is looked back on as a costly and foreseeable mistake (for the US, of course). The political situation between countries can turn on a dime. If Constellation is ready to go in 2015, which it probably won’t be, that’s still the best part of eight years away. If a week is an eternity in politics, what’s eight years? Think of how much the world and the associated politics has changed in the last eight years!

  6. ntoskrnl says

    @damo
    Human losses are a strong argument, but spaceflight isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Things than can blow up, will blow up. After every disaster with the shuttle, massive efforts have been made to rule out the same ever happening again. Whats wrong with old stuff when it’s carefully checked, renewed and maintained? It could be said that nothing alike the last disasters will happen again. When a vehicle operates for so long, many design flaws will be removed by “trial and error”, as long as you don’t get uncautious an neglegt safety, this thing is getting safer all the time.

    Other transportation systems of equal abilities would still have to prove their “mission:disaster – ratio”.

    I think I have read somewhere that the shuttles have been designed to make much more flights than they have actually done so far, at much shorter timespans. It’s the only means of reliable and most importantly versatile and flexible (many people plus large cargo) transportation available WORLDWIDE.

    Now you’d have to argue, how much the taxpayer would be willing to pay for the sole option of being able to actually do something in space (emergency involving humans and cargo, unforseen stuff, having to assemble something important in space… …). How reasonable is that? Keeping all the infrastructure and personnell alive and running is VERY expensive.

    I’m sure NASA would’t complain on being able to use the shuttles a while longer. You’ll get a new president sometime soon in the US, maybe he/she will improve funding for NASA because of a better understanding of the importance of spacefaring…

  7. LLDIAZ says

    HE HAS A POINT ABOUT MIXING THE SPACE PROGRAMS WITH POLITICS IT’S JUST NOT A STABLE ENVIRONMENT ESPECIALLY THESE DAYS WITH WHATS GOING ON WITH NATO,GEORGIA AND RUSSIA.

  8. Tom says

    “but they’re still the most complex vehicle ever put together by people” Exactly the reason this thing has to be retired.
    I don’t fully agree with the new CEV system though for the replacement. I would rather see an upgrade “shuttle” type vehicle that can carry cargo back and forth rather than this throw away modified Apollo stuff.
    I think a winged shuttle clone of some sort would be better than going backwards.
    Oh well…..

  9. alphonso richardson says

    While i’d love to see them going (I’ve never been to a live launch), I have to admit, STS is a bit long in the tooth.

    Cold-war sarcasm aside (A’fiend), International cooperation is increasinlgy the way forward to fund what is, still a very expensive & risky endeavor.

    Sharing the glory (shame) as well as the risk will become increasingly par for the course. It already happens with unmanned missions.

    Besides, if it all goes pear-shaped, at least you don’t lose ALL your countrymen (sharing the grief, how communal)

  10. Joel Raupe says

    Senator Glenn has a point, but his influence with the next administration is more likely with John McCain than with Barry Obama, as strange as that might seem.

    He earned access to the Clinton White House for work done for them in the early to mid 1990s, and McCain takes the Senate Collegium seriously. An Obama Administration is probably unwilling to support an aging, expensive program that proved to be never more then an platform for new technology and a test concept, now proven inherently dangerous because of its complexity.

    Automate the rascal, and the U.S. has heavy lift capacity in its Civilian Program until Are V.

  11. l.may says

    John Glenn may well feel strongly about retiring the Shuttle, but he is simply wrong. The shuttle is a dead end. It has limited us to Low Earth orbit for thirty years, and we must realise that the economics and physics of the shuttle will never get us further into the solar system. We must bite the bullet and develop hardware which is flexible and will permit deep space exploration. It is obvious space travel reqires hardware which does not necessarily look and fly like an airplane.

  12. I do think it’s a shame that the ISS is to be abandoned after just five or six years of solid research. Everyone is always freaking out about a space station with no science. HELLO PEOPLE!!! THE STATION IS NOT COMPLETE YET!!!

    Give it time. The science will come. I’m very excited for next spring, when we are to have 6 people on board, instead of 3. That will be great. And I sure hope that if the US doesn’t use the ISS, that a private company will.

  13. Rob says

    Right now relations with the Russian and US Govt are pretty good. However that could change in the not so very distant future. Things in that country are tending to fall apart and return to the old ways of Communist rule once again. It will happen. We will be right back into the Cold War error once again. NASA is putting way to much trust in The Russian Space Program to get our people back to Earth if something goes wrong with the Shuttle. We can’t depend on the Russians to be there if we need them. We need to Keep the present Shuttle fleet flying until at least 2015 to be on the safe side. I would not retire that fleet in 2010 as NASA wants to do. We would be putting all our eggs in one basket if we did that. We are spending a lot of money to build this station. It would be a loss if were were not able to get to it until we have a replacement for the present one until at least 2015. I really think NASA should rethink this before they decide to make this very stupid mistake.

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