Bill Wrobel's op-ed column on NASA and the space program living on through exploration conducted at Wallops Island.

Date published: 6/5/2011


--"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."

President John F. Kennedy submitted this challenge to NASA and the nation 50 years ago. NASA and the nation met this challenge and we have gone on to achieve great things in space exploration since the historic moon landing in 1969.

With the end of the moon landings and the Apollo program, a new era began with the space shuttle program and the first launch in April 1981. The shuttle orbiters allowed this nation to expand its space operations. With this spacecraft we have been able to deploy in space satellites and observatories, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, and service them. We have been able to conduct life, space, and Earth science studies aboard the shuttles as they became orbiting laboratories. Finally, the shuttle has been the workhorse in the construction of the International Space Station.

Soon, after 30 years of spectacular achievements, the shuttle program will come to an end with the last flight of the orbiter Atlantis. For many of us, we grew up with the space shuttle. To many, it has come to symbolize the nation's technological capabilities.

The end of the shuttle program does not mean an end to space exploration nor that we are abandoning our competitiveness. We are entering a new era of exploration--one that will include more commercial companies in our exploration efforts, continued support of the International Space Station, and expansion of our presence beyond Earth orbit.

As has been true throughout this nation's space exploration efforts, Virginia institutions will play a key role in this new era.

There are a number of space exploration missions being developed that are scheduled to be launched over the next five years. Most recently, NASA announced a plan to launch a spacecraft to an asteroid in 2016, to meet up with it in 2020 to collect samples, and to return to Earth in 2023 with those samples. The NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton will be supplying one of the spacecraft's instruments.

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Bill Wrobel is director of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.

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Date published: 6/5/2011