Captain Cernan calls for shuttle extension over gap concerns

by Chris Bergin

Captain Eugene (Gene) Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, has called for the shuttle to be extended past 2010 – so long as it doesn’t damage Constellation’s manifest – in order to reduce the gap in US manned space flight capability.

In an inspiring interview, Captain Cernan spoke on a variety of topics, ranging from his concerns about presidential candidate Barrack Obama’s plans for NASA, to his wish that he had flown the space shuttle.

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All of this article is based on documented L2 information. For an overview of how L2 works, **click here for sample video**


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Captain Cernan Interview:

Captain Cernan was one of fourteen astronauts selected by NASA in October 1963. He occupied the pilot seat alongside of command pilot Tom Stafford on the Gemini IX mission in 1966.

Cernan, the second American to walk in space, logged two hours and ten minutes outside the spacecraft in extravehicular activities. Cernan subsequently served as backup pilot for Gemini 12 and as backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 7.

On his second space flight, he was lunar module pilot of Apollo 10, May 18-26, 1969, the first comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification flight test of an Apollo lunar module.

Cernan’s next assignment was backup spacecraft commander for Apollo 14. However, he made his third space flight as spacecraft commander of Apollo 17 – the last manned mission to the moon for the United States – in December 6, 1972, which was the first manned night time launch of the Saturn V.

Captain Cernan – who has logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space-of which more than 73 hours were spent on the surface of the moon – retired from NASA in 1976, just as the program was heading into a long gap in US manned space flight, prior to the debut launch of the space shuttle in 1981.

Now, with the current plan to retire the shuttle in 2010, the US faces another lengthy gap in manned capability, ahead of the ‘no sooner than’ Orion missions in 2015/2016.

This new gap concerns Captain Cernan, who was available for an interview during his media promotion of the Discovery Channel’s series ‘When We Left Earth’. – Also see the specific pages for reaction to the series.

‘The gap bothers me quiet a bit, because we’re going to be at the mercy of other people – you know who they are (the Russians) – and I’m just not too comfortable with that quite frankly,’ responded Captain Cernan to my question about the gap, adding that he would support the shuttle’s proposed manifest extension.

‘I’m not sure what we do about it. There’s been some talk about additional funding and extending the shuttle, and it’s amazing to be even considering at this point in time that the shuttle is obsolete, because it does the job. If it works, we might use it for a while.

‘Having been to the moon twice – and I don’t want to sound arrogant about this – staying at home isn’t good enough, but the fact of life that the only place we’ve got to go is in Earth orbit, and the shuttle is the only way of getting there.

‘So I would like to see it funded a little bit further, to maintain our ability of access to the International Space Station (ISS).’

Cernan also added that he’s an admirer of the shuttle, and wishes he still had the opportunity to ride onboard with an orbiter – if only for a couple of days.

‘I’d love to fly the shuttle today. I don’t want to spend two weeks travelling around the Earth, as I’ve done that, but I’d like to fly the shuttle for a day or two and run her through her paces. The shuttle is still the greatest flying machine that we’ve ever designed, built, and flown and I haven’t had the chance to fly one.’

As noted by Constellation management and even NASA administrator Mike Griffin, simply extending the shuttle does not close the gap, given it would mean another two years the Ares and Orion programs would be without the huge percentage of the NASA budget which is eaten up by the shuttle program.

Captain Cernan understands that concern, and should such an extension fail to be funded at a rate that would not be to the detriment of the Constellation program, his priority remains with returning to the moon.

‘I don’t want to (extend the shuttle) at the expense of taking funds away from Constellation, because I’m one of those firm and strong believers that we must go back to the moon, and we must go beyond.

‘I keep telling those fourth and fifth graders that they are the ones that it’s carrying on the legacy of the Wright Brothers and to go make it happen, and they are the ones that are going to take us to Mars. There’s no question in my mind that it will happen.’

While there has been a level of concern about the technical challenges the Ares program is suffering from, Captain Cernan is at least supportive of the decision to use Apollo heritage via Orion.

‘They call Orion ‘Apollo on steroids’ – as far as I’m concerned, that’s fine. What we did the first time worked pretty well,’ the Captain added.

‘The thing we have to remember, and is a real credibility to American ingenuity, not withstanding the sacrifices that were made and the people we lost – truly beginning with Apollo 1 before we ever got an Apollo spaceship off the ground – is the fact that everybody we sent to the moon, think about this, everybody we sent to the moon a generation ago, 35 years since I made those final steps, everybody, including the crew of Apollo 13, came home.

‘That’s a testimonial to what we can do if we put our minds to doing something.

‘So we did it with something called Apollo, and if Constellation looks like Apollo, but it’s got a little bit more capability, we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We just need to get there.

‘The trip is mandatory, but if I had my way I’d wave a magic wand and we’d just forget the trip and just be there – because that’s the reason we’re going, just to be there.’

Captain Cernan also emphasized the rationale for spending billions of American taxpayer’s money on going back to the moon and on to Mars, claiming it is the basis of a human’s existence to explore.

‘Why do I need to go to the moon, why do I need to go to Mars? I’ve got my sewing machine, I’ve got my washing machine, my computer and my cell phone (is what I sometimes hear).

‘Thank God someone didn’t say that over history – or you and I wouldn’t be here to talk about how we did something – and I use the term ‘we’ – we did something – in this country.

‘When I hear people asking about why we need to (explore), I say that curiosity is the basis of our human existence. Seeking knowledge and understanding about who we are, how long were going to be here, what’s out there. Did Mars look like Earth eons ago, or does Mars look like the Earth will many years into the future?

‘I don’t have the answers to those questions, but when I stood on the surface of the moon, took those final steps, and crawled up the ladder, I tried to realize what those last few days meant to me, the significance of it all, and I came to the conclusion that science and technology didn’t give the answer to what I was thinking and what I was feeling.

‘So when we go further out, we’re going to have more feelings and we’re going to have more answers – and that’s what it’s all about. This is our destiny!

‘People who say we could use the money to feed the poor are eating our seed corn, they are taking the investment in the future right out of the hands of the young people of today.’

And it was Captain Cernan’s passion for the education of today’s youth that is one of the key points that the benefits of the space program can provide America’s children.

‘I keep getting this question ‘why spend so much money on the space program? We should spend that money on education!’ Well let me say this, money doesn’t educate kids, it gives them opportunities to learn. But you’ve got to stimulate their minds, you’ve got to inspire them, you’ve got to give them an opportunity to dream.

‘The space program’s legacy is the inspiration and dreams they provided to all of us. When I went, today, and tomorrow – all of us went to do what other people couldn’t do, or what other people were afraid to do. That’s education.

‘When you take money away from aviation and space, you take away that inspiration and you put a hole in the opportunity for kids to have a desire to learn. So put the money in the space program and stimulate kids to learn. That’s education.’

While Captain Cernan believes the decisions made by the Constellation program have been the correct ones, he’s been disappointed at the pace of the vehicle’s development, citing the political will that is not showing any signs of improving via the comments made so far by the presidential candidates over recent months.

‘I think so far they’ve done what they could have done right with the funding they’ve had available (the Constellation program). But when president Bush announced (the VSE), the president looked and pointed at me and quoted my words ‘we leave as we now came, and God willing as shall will return with peace and hope for all mankind’.

‘He pointed to me (in the audience) and said ‘and Captain Cernan, America will not let you down’ or something to that effect. Well, things have slowed down obviously and I’m a little disappointed, because no one talks about the space program these days.

‘The question I get today is ‘why did we quit, why didn’t we go on, and when are we going back?’ And you haven’t heard one word in any primary about space (from the presidential candidates). Now you may hear words about education, but the people talking about education don’t know that you have to stimulate kids to learn.

‘You don’t hear about space being a contributor to education. You don’t hear about space in the existing political situation.

‘There’s a lot of support in Congress from both sides of the aisle. The one thing I’ll give Congress credit for – not much – is at least there’s a majority of consensus that we need to spend money on technology and space.’

A specific political target for Captain Cernan was Obama’s current policy of installing a five year hiatus in the Constellation program, to allow the diversion of funds into a proposed education program, which – in Cernan’s opinion – is one of a number of reasons he is not a supporter of the Illinois Senator.

‘Depending on how the election goes, Obama’s already said he’s going to slow down the space program – and I think it’ll go further than that, I think it’ll be slowed down for a decade or so and I don’t believe anything will happen – and he’ll use the money for education. I just told you how I feel about that.

‘So I’m not too excited about him, for a number of reasons quiet frankly – lots of reasons actually, politically and on ideology and on the space program – I’m just not too excited about the potential of him being the president of the United States.

Cernan, a retired United States Navy Captain, was assigned to Attack Squadrons 26 and 112 at the Miramar Naval Air Station. He has logged more than 5000 hours flying time with more than 4800 hours in jet aircraft and over 200 jet aircraft carrier landings.

His career in the US forces has led to a certain amount of respect for John McCain – the Republican presidential candidate, adding that both candidates need to understand the power behind the decisions made by former president John F. Kennedy – mainly due to the current situation with the space program and the American political climate.

‘John McCain, as a kid, had the same dreams as I did. He wanted to fly planes off aircraft carriers, so somewhere down in John McCain’s heart was a dream about wanting to fly, and I think he’s got a better appreciation for the significance of technology in the free world and the continuation (of the US) to be the leader in the free world.

‘(For example) let me take you back to 1961. Sputnik had flown a couple of years earlier. Yuri Gagarin had flow a couple of orbits of the Earth in the April of 1961 – and the rest of the free world was looking at the US saying ‘what are you going to do about it?’

‘We were a country torn apart by civil unrest and campus strikes, at the beginning of a very unpopular war, and in May – the next month after Gagarin – Alan Sheppard, the first American in space, went up and down.

‘He would have 16 minutes of space flight experience, didn’t even get into orbit, and three weeks later the president of the United States, JFK – God bless him, I don’t know if he was a visionary, a dreamer or politically astute, he was probably all three, we’ll never know – said ‘ok folks, we’re going to go to the moon’.

‘Now think of the power in that statement, from sixteen minutes of space flight experience and before even the Gemini program, and not only that, we’re going to do it before the end of the decade, and that we were going to do it before the other guy does it, even though he never said it, but we knew it.

‘That was the stimulus of getting us to the moon and that was the legacy of Apollo. Don’t tell me we can’t do it, cause that’s how we’re going to make it happen. Dream the impossible and go out and make it a habit. That’s what Apollo was all about and we’ve got to get back on that track.

‘The presidential candidates of today have got to realize what that did to the American people, at a time we were down on ourselves, when we had nothing to be proud of.

‘I know a lot of POWs (Prisoners of War), I don’t know John McCain very well, but you can ask a lot of POWs, and God bless their souls as they gave six or seven years of their life for this country, and felt they were doing the right thing, as they were doing what they had been asked to do.

‘(You can ask them about the) stories coming back about these POWs about getting a little package of sugar with a picture of an astronaut with an American flag on the moon. They didn’t know who, they didn’t know when, but they knew it had been done, and they knew we had done it.

‘I’ve got friends who were over there who’ve told me ‘Gene, that gave me inspiration to live and endure for as long as it took to get out of here.

‘So was the Apollo program worth it in dollars? Look what it did to this country when we needed something to be proud of, and quite frankly I’m not sure if we’re not in the same place today as we were then.

‘That’s another reason I’m so passionate about us being the technological leader of the world. Going to the moon and on to Mars is going to be an international program, but we need to be the guy out front.

‘If the presidential candidates don’t know that, then it’s going to be a long hard summer.’

To review the latest series of Ares/Orion articles based on documentated engineering processes being carried out on the vehicles at this time. Click for: **Part 1** – **Part 2** – **Part 3** – **Part 4** **Part 5** – **Part 6** – **Part 7**

Selection of L2 Resources For Ares I, V and Constellation: 

VAB Changes for Ares I-X (Images). PRCB Transition Presentation (Shuttle to Ares). Ares V (5.5/6xRS-68) Presentation (and more). Orion Parachute Vehicle Images. Latest Risk Matrix for Ares. SI Unit Directive Document. CxP PMR08 Manifest. PDR and associated notes from CPCB meeting. Full (and very expansive) list of current Ares/Orion mass and status report. Ares I ‘Parasorber’ TO migitation hardware presentation and animation. Orion Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV) Photographs.

110mb worth of Ares I-X Weekly Test Presentations (Ares I-X, J2-X etc. up to end of April) The Orion LIDS (Low Impact Docking System) Section (Images, Videos, Engineering Notes). Hi Res Images of Ares I in the VAB. Ares I-X Integrated Milestone Charts. Ares I Thrust Oscillation Focus Team Status Presentations (over 50mb – includes DTO on Shuttle missions), Ares I-X Global Buckling Status Presentation, Ares I – Launch Pad Stabilization and Damping Presentation, Ares I: Purge/Vent/Drain and Vehicle Access Presentation.

Ares Tilt Up Umbilical Arm (TUUA) Test – Video, Ares/Orion Comm and Tracking Presentation, Ares I Nozzle Extension Update Presentation, Ares/Orion Integrated Stack TIM Summary (Major Issues) Presentation, Orion Land vs Water Landing Update + Crew Survival (post 36 hrs) Presentations.

Altair Overview Presentation. Ares I Risks and Status. Ares I-X Booster Recovery Images and Video. Ares I-X Pad Images. Ares I-Y Mission Overview Video (50mb – Superb).  Orion Lunar Transit CGI Video. (Several more videos, including first video of Orion splashdown). 

Orion Rendezvous with the ISS CGI Video, plus AERCam Inspections. Ares I Thurst Oscillation Update Section.  Images of completed PA-1 boilerplate Command Module at LaRC.  CxP Planning for Architecture Closure – Feb 19. Ares V Overview Presentations. Other Major CxP Updates for Feb (List restricted to L2).

Orion 607 Overview Presentation (Jan 08), Constellation Program Status/Budget and new Manifest to Orion 20 Presentation (Jan, 08). Michoud Transition to Ares I/V (Jan 17, 08). Several MLAS (Max Launch Abort System) Presentations. Over 60 Hi Res Images of Orion Mock-up at JSC (Hatch, Seats, Flight Deck) – December.

Lunar Habitat Assembly. PRCB Presentations on hardware and infrastruction transition (from Palmdale to MLP Park) ‘Follow live’ Lightning Towers Construction images. Latest Mobile Launcher details. Orion/Ares I/Delta IV Heavy NEO Feasibility Study (Video). Constellation EVA Study Presentation. Superb Gene Kranz address to CxP workforce (Apollo to Orion feature) video. MOD ‘LEO to Mars’ presentations.

Superb Ares I Launch Ascent, Pad Abort Test CGI Videos (three). Integrated Stack (IS) Technical Interchange Meeting (TIM) notes – Nov 6 to Nov 15. The full ‘8th Floor News’ – Constellation Update (performance issues) – Nov 5. Ares I Mobile Launcher PMR.

‘Proposed’ Ares I SRBSF (Mini VAB) and graphic. LSAM (LDAC-1) Video and Images. Several Constellation All Hands Videos and Presentations. Ares I Pad Rollercoaster (Old and New presentation and slides – the very cool ‘CGI ride on the Ares pad coaster’ video. Ares I VAB ‘In-Line’ Stacking presentation slides.

Presentation of Ares/Orion impacts relating to Shuttle manifest acceleration. Ares I Interstage diagrams. Ares V Super Crawler. Ares I Launch Pad images (ML etc.) Hi Res images of Ares I-X Upper Stage. Orion 606-7 Data Updates. Updates Constellation launch schedule through to Orion 15. Orion Seat test photos. New ML Graphic and info. New Ares V graphic and baseline data. Large collection of hi res Orion paracute drop tests. SIX Part Series of Ares I Upper Stage Graphical Overviews. DAC-1C DDD Vast Slides on Vehicle Design. ATK First Stage Presentation. 39B Lightning Towers Slides. DAC-1C Departure points to DAC-2 Upper Stage Graphcs (Many Changes).

Orion/CEV Display Layout Presentation (40 pages). ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV. Weather Shield (Rain Shield) for Orion on the pad. New Super hi-res images of Ares I. ATK Cutaway graphics of Ares I – perspective and axonometric. Ares I/Orion CxP 72031 Requirements Validation Matrix Information. CEV Paracute Assembly System (CPAS) Presentation.

Orion Launch Abort System (LAS) overview presentation. Changes to Ares I Upper Stage – expansive details and data. Ares I/Orion CxP 72031 Requirements Validation Matrix Information. CLV Umbilical Trade Matrix XLS. Vehicle interfaces for the DAC 1C version of Orion Ares. Ares I-X Test Flight Plan (full outline) Presentation. Ares I-X timeline and modification expanded info. Ares I Reference Trajectory. Boeing’s STS to Ares – Lessons Learned Presentation. CLV DAC-1C (Changes to CLV Upper Stage).

Ares I-X: Four Seg+Dummy ‘Tuna Can’ stage. Ascent Developmental Flight Test Presentation. CLV Pad 39B Handover Info and Latest. New images of CLV on top of new MLP and LUT. Lockheed Martin CEV/Orion Updates. ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV.

90 Minute Video of Constellation all hands meeting. Escape System Trade Study Presentation. CEV-CLV Design Analysis Cycle Review (DAC-2) Presentation. Flight Design and Dynamics Division CEV update. CLV Mono-propellant RCS system. CEV pressurisation system review. CLV/CEV Configuration Images. The 2×3 Seg SRB Crew Launch Vehicle Option Presentation…

….plus much more (L2 Constellation over 180,000mb in size).

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