Saturday, January 16, 2010
Twenty years ago, NASA selected the Group 13 astronauts. I was one of the proud and excited twenty three new faces who reported to CB (the mail code at NASA for the Astronaut Office) that summer in 1990.
It had been my childhood dream to become an astronaut, since watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing as an eight-year old, in Danville, California. 1990 was an exciting time to be starting an astronaut career. President Bush had requested a twenty four percent increase in the NASA budget, to perform the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). SEI called for a return to the Moon, and a human landing on Mars, by the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. The President had a Budget Director who was in favor of the new program, and he also activated the National Space Council and made it again a Cabinet-Level appointment, run by the Vice President. President Bush announced SEI on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11. Last year, we passed Apollo 11's 40th anniversary.
Back in that hot 1990 summer in Houston, the Moon seemed to be again within our grasp. I dared to think that some members of my class had a chance of making it to the Moon (me?) and perhaps even a small chance of going to Mars! But, because 2019 seemed so far away in 1990, and because estimates of the program cost were somewhere North of $400 Billion (a big number today, and an even bigger number back then), SEI ended up going nowhere. Today, 2019 doesn't seem so far away, and the price tag of SEI doesn't seem too bad, when compared to the cost of the two wars which the US is waging. What would have, should have, could have been done differently, to make SEI a success? I don't know the answers to that question, but I think about it sometimes.
I didn't get to go to the Moon, which would have been coming full circle to complete my childhood dream. But, I could not have asked for more in a flying career. I spent fifteen years at NASA, and had the good fortune to fly four space missions, logging almost 230 days in space. I've performed six spacewalks, including two using Russian spacesuits. I flew on Space Shuttle, and once as the copilot of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and served as the Commander of the International Space Station. I look back at those days with pride, gratitude and humble acknowledgment of my fantastic good luck to have had the opportunities.
Back in those heady days of 1990, the twenty-nine-year-old me had taken that huge first jump to getting into space, and had landed on my feet. nothing else mattered.