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Return To Flight | A Radio Special

SpaceX's DM-2 mission lifts off from Kennedy Space Center. Photo: NASA
(NASA/Joel Kowsky)
SpaceX's DM-2 mission lifts off from Kennedy Space Center. Photo: NASA

Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA has relied solely on the Russian space agency to send astronauts into orbit. That reliance ends as SpaceX launches humans from the U.S. for the first time in nearly a decade.

RETURN TO FLIGHT is a special presentation from WMFE that aired ahead of that historic mission. Join us as we talk with space leaders and former astronauts about NASA's Commercial Crew Program and the efforts to launch humans from the U.S. once more.
Click the media player above to listen to this show. 

Interview Highlights


Charlie Bolden, Former NASA Administrator

On the decision to cancel Space Shuttle: "I think it was the absolute right thing to do. I'm an explorer and I really wanted to go to Mars and I still do and could not see a way that we could mount a serious deep-space program as long as we were paying $2 billion a year for shuttle."

On returning launch capabilities to the United States: "We pride ourselves as being the greatest nation in the world and in being the nation that everybody looks to and symbolically. It's really hard to prove to people that you're the leader in the world in space if you don't own it, if you don't have the capability of doing everything from from your own soil."

On making space for all: "I think shuttles greatest legacy is what it did for society, in allowing people who, who before before Shuttle had no hope of going to space people like me. I'm an African American and I didn't stand a chance of going to space before Shuttle. So I think something that is billed as a commercial program that that is for everybody, not just NASA, stands a chance of allowing people who might otherwise never go to space to have an opportunity to go."

Nicole Stott, Former Space Shuttle Astronaut

On saying goodbye to family: "They always had cameras going, right? The guys will tell you right before getting out there 'you know, you'll have time if you want you can wave at your family or whatever.' So my son and I came up with this top secret hand signals that really meant 'love you see in a couple months' kind of thing and was able to do that in the camera for him and that's one of my favorite memories."

On talking about risk: "I think [I spoke] in a less direct way my husband for sure. My mom and sisters just through questions they would ask. There was a lot of unspoken stuff that you just knew how people were feeling. You tried to resolve those feelings by just being there, making phone calls,you could just kind of be present."

On the moments before liftoff: " [You're] all strapped in and secure and comfy and get all your stuff in order and everything but then when that happens,  there's really there's time to rest and I think most of us take the opportunity to do that -- even napping a little bit, just to to chill a little bit. If I remember correctly, it wasn't until the half hour or 20 minute point where the crew really starts to get actively involved in the countdown. Then it was not until the 10...9...8...  part of the countdown where you think 'I might actually go to space today' because you just don't believe it's gonna happen until literally like the last second."

Bob Cabana, Kennedy Space Center Director & Former Space Shuttle Astronaut

On preparing Kennedy Space Center for crew operations: "We knew that we had to start preparing for for the future once we knew the shuttle program was going to end. We had to transform as a Space Center. The Commercial Crew Program, you know, was a follow on to the comercial [cargo] ressuply missions to the International Space Station. When shuttle program ended, we had to have another way of getting our crews up there and the logical flow was to develop Commercial Crew. So back in  the 2010 timeframe is when we really got started on this."

On the similarity to Space Shuttle launches: "They're very familiar with the environment that they're going into and what's expected of them while they're down here. In many ways, it's going to be very similar to a shuttle launch. On launch day, they'll get up and they'll have their crew breakfast or lunch. They'll go off down to the suit room and get suited up, although they're going to get into some different suits this time. They'll head out of the crew quarters in the O&C building. Instead of getting on the Astro Van, they're going to be riding in a Tesla to the to the launch pad As they go through all of this, it's something that both of them and done before when they flew aboard the Shuttle. It's different but in many ways it's going to feel familiar to them."

Dale Ketcham, Space Florida Vice President

On the end of Space Shuttle and economic downturn in Florida: "The original decision was made shortly after we lost [Space Shuttle] Columbia. Everyone knew that something was going to happen. The actual dread of Shuttle retirement started in 2004 when President Bush announced that at the end of the International Space Station construction, which was expected to be 2010, the Shuttle would retire.  A lot of planning had gone in to mitigate that retirement by Space Florida, the local economic development commission, our federal delegation and others. But right at that time, the great recession laid waste to our best plans. President Obama had added one more shuttle launch, but then it was over. The layoffs came while we were still struggling with the impacts of great recession. It was bleak."

On Florida's role in space exploration: "I don't think there's any question that nowhere on the planet is there more commercial activity, commercial space activity going on than here in East Central Florida. It's been a real boom We're excited and just trying to do our job to grow it.

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.