For U.S. space flight, the retirement of the Space Shuttle program means the country must now rely on its Russian partners for transport to the International Space Station.
This loss of independence has unsettled critics, notably Chris Ferguson -- the final shuttle commander of the final mission for the U.S. space shuttle.
“I’m a little uneasy that there’s only one way [to get into space]," Ferguson told Fox News in an exclusive interview with "America's Morning." "But we’ll recover from this and we’ll use resources that were devoted to the shuttle program to do it.”
Ferguson wasn’t concerned with Russian reliance but instead the general lack of options to get into space.
“[The Russians are] great reliable partners,” Ferguson told Fox News. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a case of us or them. I have no particular issue with relying on partners because that’s what partners are for -- to help you through perhaps a time where you need time to pull back and regroup.”
Ferguson also believes the private sector will help pick up the slack.
“It’s a short hiatus but I’m very confident in our commercial partners,” he continued. “We’ve seen SpaceX already launch an orbital vehicle and recover it safely in the Pacific Ocean. Others are not too far behind.”
But all this means that NASA must get its act together in this important time of transition and public concern over the long term future of America’s space program. Gene Cernan, best known for being the last man to walk on the moon 39 years ago, wrote an editorial in the Austin Statesman recently offering words of warning: “If we don’t watch where we are going, we will end up where we are headed,” he worried.
Specialist Sandy Magnus agreed, citing the need for a long term space plan.
“Space flight is a very complicated business,” Magnus told Fox News. “It takes plans that last longer than 2 or 3 or 4 years. We need a decades-long plan and we need to stay focused on that plan and we need to execute that plan.”
Yet in spite of all the doom and gloom, the final shuttle flight was the opportunity for the four to cherish what is a truly monumental moment -- and the end of an era -- as the last astronauts to ever fly a NASA shuttle.
“It was unbelievably breathtaking as we backed away from the International Space Station yesterday,” Pilot Doug Hurley told Fox News. “They planned it such that we would get out to about 600 feet as the sun rises behind us so it lights up the rest of the space station. It was beautiful.”
As such the crew remains light hearted. When pressed about his favorite wakeup song -- having to choose between the likes of Elton John, Paul McCartney, or Michael Stipe of REM -- specialist Rex Walheim couldn’t choose just one. “They were all obviously amazing and it was quite a treat to sit there in the dark of the space shuttle to listen to those songs,” he said.
In the end, it wasn’t about the music.
“More important than the song were the personal greetings, “Walheim explained. “That those fantastic artists took time out to say good morning -- it just meant the world to us.”