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article imageAs the shuttle era ends, astronauts ponder their fate

By Joan Firstenberg     Jul 18, 2011 in Science
The Shuttle Atlantis roars back to earth this Thursday marking the end of the U.S. Space Missions, a casualty of budget cuts. Now, what's to happen to the generation of people who trained long and hard to be astronauts?
America's fleet of spaceship astronauts do have a couple of choices now if they want to continue to explore outer space. AFP News reports that one option will be to buy a ride on Russia's Soyuz rocket, although the price will be a hefty $50 million per seat. There is also a new U.S. Space craft being built by a private company in partnership with NASA which will have its own commercial launcher and is expected to be ready to fly around 2015.
Astronaut Steve Robinson, who has flown four shuttle missions in the past few years, says the ending of NASA's space program is disheartening.
"Of course it's hard, because we dedicate our lives to fly in space. We are astronauts and it's what we do for a living,"
But an article in the Statesmen is more upbeat about what NASA has in mind for the future, noting that just because Shuttle travel is over for the United States, a new American space race is about to begin. This new race will create safer, cheaper and perhaps smaller spaceships. And in addition to exploration and research, the new era will produce an economic return, as it collects energy and minerals from space, and does microgravity research in fields like biology.
In fact NASA administrator Charles Bolden told the House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology committee recently that he sees a sizable development in commercial space flight in the near future.
"My hope is that we will have more that one American commercial-made capability to take humans to space by 2015/16 time frame which will give us several alternatives."
The director of the Space Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., Scott Pace, who is a former NASA official during the Bush administration, says the International Space Station will still need support.
"There still will be a need for an astronaut corps. It will be at least two American astronauts for the ISS at any particular time. Some will be on training for a mission, some will be recovering from a mission."
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