July 6 - With NASA's final space shuttle launch approaching and no rocket replacement in the works, many are asking: What's next for NASA and the future of the American space program? Jon Decker reports.
America's fascination with the outer space dates back more than half a century. Went on May 21 1961. President John F. Kennedy laid down the marker to a joint session of congress. I. Believe that this nation should commit itself. To achieve that goal. Before this decade without. A -- no ma'am ammonia and returning him safely to the earth. On July 20 1969. -- goal was achieved. Apollo alleging crewed by astronauts Neil Armstrong Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon surface. That's what you call that program. I have always. NASA's next great achievement came a little over a decade later. With the launch of the space shuttle the world first reusable spacecraft. But the mission of Atlantis for STS 135. On July 8. Officially ends NASA's thirty year shuttle program. The program ends with no rocket ready to replace the shuttle and take American astronauts into space. Some lawmakers like Florida's senior senator Bill Nelson. Blamed former president George W. Bush. The reason we don't have an American rocket that's ready now the time shut down the space shuttle is that NASA would storm the phones. For the last eight years. And that was because. The previous administration would not support those extra fonts. NASA says its goals for now are expanding research on the International Space Station. Relying on Russia's Soyuz rockets to transport American astronauts to the -- assets. NASA will pay the Russian Federal Space Agency almost 56 million dollars per trip. William Gersten Meyer is NASA's associate administrator for space operations. I would like to have another vehicle to immediately step two for transportation. We don't have that does that mean we stop no. We've got the space station we can now really push research and really focus on research. Because president Barack Obama canceled the Ares one rocket post shuttle space vehicle. -- have to rely on Russia -- based transportation. Until US commercial firms like virgin galactic and SpaceX. Can build spaceships capable of carrying humans too low earth orbit. Obama in a major space policy speech at the Kennedy Space Center last year predicted a US mission to Mars. By the mid 20s30s. There's a lot more of space to explore and a lot more to learn when we do. So I believe it's more important to ramp up our capabilities to reach and operate at a series of increasingly demanding targets. While advancing our technological capabilities with each step forward. But Obama's proposal that the commercial spaceflight industry stepped in for NASA has some in the space industry still uncertain. About what's the next frontier for America's space program. In terms of manned space exploration. Atlantis mission commander Chris Ferguson. We're gonna go to kind of an airline model if you will work. Where other entities other companies build rockets in the fly rockets and United States astronauts. Buy tickets aboard those rockets and perhaps even operate them. To get to lower earth orbit and to the International Space Station but. That's the model what will transcend over the next few years or so I think we're just gonna have to let time tell. Also -- clear about the future -- the American space program Ferguson's fellow crew mate on STS 135. Mission specialist Sandra Magnus. I think everybody's comfortable with the fact that we're going to be moving out of lower orbit and they understand that and weren't going to be Miller taking the next step in doing exploration. And people are excited about that but you know we're still working out the hows and whys and the where -- in the details. And of course dean and the space mission want to answer now so we can get started -- we can start working on because we wanna go back. That's why there are such mixed emotions at NASA are associated with the final mission of the space shuttle program. Jon Decker Reuters. --