NASA'S next manned space craft is way past the dream stage. "I'm ecstatic that if you go to Michoud today, you're seeing hardware being formed," says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Marshall Space Flight Center operates the facility at Michoud, and Marshall is also in charge of taking the Space Launch System (SLS) from a drawing to its first manned flight this decade. "I want to be able to have NASA deliver on a promise, and I think we're going to do that," says Bolden.
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with WHNT News 19, the NASA Administrator was asked about plans for the space agency to leave the International Space Station, possibly as soon as the next ten years. "NASA's focus is in trying to get us out of low earth orbit. For the decade of the 20's and what we call the proving ground. Because by that time we will have utilized the space station, probably to the greatest extent that we could think of. It will have served its purposes for us," says Bolden. NASA he says, wants to get to cislunar space, the space between earth and the moon, and the moon itself.
Leaving the station makes economic and scientific sense. But there is the question: What will Marshall do with its Payload Operations Center? Right now the POC manages science on the station. "At some point Marshall is going to have their fingers into three different regions of the universe. they're going to be engaged with us that are doing science around the moon, and they're going to be on the leading edge of exploration, helping us do science on Mars," says Bolden.
Mars has been NASA's dream destination since the days of Wernher Von Braun and the Saturn V. "I have yet to go anywhere in this world, on this planet, where people are not enthused about NASA'S leadership in getting humans to Mars," says Charles Bolden. He was asked about international help with that mission, and said that several international partners do want a piece of it.
There are still those who question whether NASA will have enough money to follow its timeline with the SLS, and there are concerns that it will be very hard to fund a project to mount a Mars' mission. "We are not talking, no pun intended, about astronomical amounts of money. We have had a number of very smart, you know, accounting people, budgeting people, who have said yeah, Mars is attainable given the budgets in place today with modest increases," says the NASA Administrator.
One other item that Charles Bolden enthusiastically discussed, commercial space flight. He says recent accidents by two companies involved in commercial space prove that it will work. "If they can get knocked down and have something horrible happen like an accident. People may not think that's bad, that's tragic, whether or not there's a person in it or not. That's devastating to a company, no matter how big you are, but to be able to get back up, get back in the ring the way that Orbital just did, and the way that I'm certain Space X will do. That speaks volumes for the decision to depend on them," says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
He said one other short sentence about the way he believes things are proceeding for NASA on its various current projects. "I'm a happy camper," he said. His face was framed around a big smile.