President Barack Obama called out for pizza today and ending up talking with the crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 on the International Space Station. Well, that was his story anyway, but he did talk with the crews, offering a challenge for commercial space companies, as well as remembering the first flight of cooperation between the US and the Soviet Union – the Apollo-Soyuz test project which launched 36 years ago today — and reiterating the challenge of sending humans to Mars.
The STS-135 crew brought a flag that was flown on STS-1, the first shuttle mission, up to the ISS. “We’ll present the flag to the space station crew and it will hopefully maintain a position of honor until the next vehicle launched from US soil brings US astronauts up to dock with the space station,” STS-135 commander Chris Ferguson told the president.
“And I understand this is going to be sort of like a capture the flag moment for commercial space flight, so good luck to whoever grabs that flag,” Obama said.
“That’s an excellent point sir,” Ferguson replied. “We sure hope to see some of our commercial partners climbing on board really soon. I know there’s a lot of competition out there, there’s a lot of people are fervently working towards this goal to be the first one to send a commercial astronaut into orbit.”
Shortly afterward, the SpaceX Twitter account posted: “SpaceX commencing flag capturing sequence…”
Later Obama acknowledged said that while this mission marks the final flight of the space shuttle program, “it also ushers in a new era exciting new era to push the frontiers of space exploration and human spaceflight. Crew members like you will continue to operate the ISS in the coming years and seek to use it to advance scientific research and technology development. I’ve tasked NASA with an ambitious new mission to develop the systems and the kinds of space technologies that are going to be necessary to conduct exploration beyond Earth and ultimately sending humans to Mars, which is obviously no small feat, but I know we’re going to be up to the task.”
This is the second time within a week Obama has said Mars is the ultimate goal for human spaceflight, (he also mentioned it in a statement following the successful launch of Atlantis last week), which is a slight departure from the flexible path scenario or a mission sending humans to an asteroid that he unveiled over a year ago.
Each partner in the Apollo-Soyuz Test project launched on July 15, 1972, where an Apollo capsule and Soyuz capsule met up and docked together in Earth orbit. It was the first joint U.S./Soviet space flight, and the last manned US space mission until the first Space Shuttle flight in April 1981. “It’s exciting to know that we aren’t just shaking hands 36 years later but are working everyday with partners of other nations to represent humankind coming together in space,” Obama told the crews.
Obama also recognized the people who have worked “countless hours and untold effort making the space shuttle and the International Space Station are a unique part of our history.”