STS-114 pilot Jim Kelly has stated he’d be happy to give up a possible role as a commander on one of the remaining Shuttle missions, if it resulted in gaining a seat on a debut flight of the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle).
Twice Kelly has launched on the Shuttle in the right-hand pilot seat – bringing him into line for the role as commander. However, the 41-year old is already starting to focus on next evolution of NASA’s manned space flight program.
‘I would take the flight on the new vehicle, and that’s because it probably falls in line with being a test pilot,’ Kelly said to his local paper, The Burlington Hawk Eye.
‘I love the shuttle. It’s a fantastic vehicle. I’d love to be a commander. But on the other hand I’d love to fly the new vehicle as well.’
Kelly became a household name, along with the likes of his commander, Eileen Collins and spacewalk hero Steve Robinson, due to the huge media interest surrounding the launch of Discovery in July of last year.
The first Shuttle mission since the loss of Columbia drew half a million spectators to the surrounding area for a glimpse of the launch, along with well over 2,500 members of the TV and news media.
‘We talked about it before the mission, there’s so much media attention and all that,’ he added, noting that his first realisation of the massive attention the mission had gained was from hearing of the public wish to see Discovery land safely. ‘I don’t think it really hit me that we were at the center of that much emotion until we got on the ground.
‘You know how airports are, everybody’s frustrated, they’re waiting. It’s like herding cattle,’ he said. ‘(My mother in law) said everything stopped and the whole airport was a hushed silence while everybody watched the TV as we were coming in to land. People were crying.
‘It really hit home that story about how much it meant to the country that we were able to go up and come back safely.’
While Kelly holds aspirations of being one of the first to fly on the CEV, he hasn’t given up on the idea of one final Shuttle mission. A successful STS-121, currently estimated to be launching in May, will go some way towards a return to regular missions for the STS program. A maximum of 19 flights remain on the Shuttle manifest.
‘If everything goes off without a hitch, and we start flying shuttles more regularly again, then I’d say there’s a relatively good chance I’d fly the shuttle one more time before it’s over (in 2010),’ Kelly noted, adding it is, however, his dream to be involved with the early flights of the CEV, set to debut between 2012 and 2014.
‘I’m very excited about the crew exploration vehicle, the moon and going on to Mars.
‘That’s what I grew up dreaming about, doing those things.’