After many unmanned tests and a few failures during the late 1950s, on May 5, 1961, NASA put the first American in space (Alan Shepard) and started the manned Mercury Program. The flight lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds. L. Gordon Cooper flew the last Mercury mission on May 16, 1963. The Mercury Program, both unmanned and manned lasted 5 years.

The Gemini Program was introduced as the next NASA manned spaceflight program on January 3, 1962. Gemini XII landed on November 15, 1966 and ended the program. The Gemini Program lasted 5 years.

The Apollo Program started with Apollo 8 in 1968, which orbited the moon and returned without landing on the moon. Apollo 17 ended the program in 1972. The Apollo Program lasted only 5 years.

Why, then, has the Shuttle Program been going on for 28 years? I submit, after working for NASA during the early Shuttle Program days, that at first it was for one reason. The Shuttle existed for the building of the International Space Station. It carried many of the modules and pieces necessary to build the Space Station. That was the goal that was instilled in us when I worked there. I believe that its purpose now is to carry valuable experiment packages and instruments to the site, as well as shuttling astronauts back and forth. It is also a valuable asset when satellites have to be repaired or maintained and when the Hubble Telescope needs maintenance or repairs.

Having said that, I believe that it is past the time for NASA to be out of the Space Shuttle Program. Even when I worked there, NASA was already contracting portions of the construction of the Space Shuttle out to various NASA contractors. NASA has always been in the business of exploration, not transport. All of the things the Space Shuttle does today can be done by contractors, and probably be done cheaper.

NASA needs to get back into the business of space exploration. They have proven time and time again that that’s what they are best at. With the completion of the International Space Station, they can now use it as a stopping place to go on to other places. When I worked there in the 1980s, engineers were already talking about going back to the moon. I worked for the Lunar and Mars Division. It was exciting.

NASA needs to get out of the transport business. The Space Shuttle Program can and must continue, but can do so under the guidance of a number of NASA contractors-Lockheed Martin, Boeing and many others. Most of them were instrumental in the building of the Shuttle itself and today have instrument packages and experiments that fly regularly in the Shuttle’s payload. That will free up NASA’s time and budget so that they can get back to doing what they are best at-exploring outer space.


Williams, Dr. David R. (n.d.) The Apollo program (1963 – 1972). Retrieved September 24, 2009 from

Mercury (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2009 from

Hacker, Barton C. & Grimwood, James M. (1977). NASA Special Publication-4203 in the NASA History Series. On the shoulders of titans: A history of project Gemini. Retrieved September 24, 2009 from

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