On the 50th anniversary of becoming the first American to orbit earth, former astronaut John Glenn said NASA is in a difficult position because the space agency must rely on the Russians to transport Americans to the International Space Station.
On Feb. 20, 1962, Glenn piloted the Friendship 7 into orbit around Earth. He circled the globe three times before returning to a hero’s welcome. He later served in the U.S. Senate for 24 years and made a bid for president. He was the third American in space, but the first to orbit the planet.
The Soviet Union put the first human into space and into orbit, in 1961. But in the years of the Cold War, it was a matter of national pride for the United States to catch up, and Glenn was among the first group of astronauts, the Mercury Seven, celebrated in fact and fiction for having The Right Stuff, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Glenn, 90, took part in a forum at Ohio State University to mark the anniversary and discuss NASA. He was critical of the decision to end the U.S. shuttle program that carried astronauts to the International Space Station.
"NASA is in a difficult position today, quite frankly. It's sort of a hold-your-breath period for NASA as to what's going to happen, because the only way we go into space now, as it's already been mentioned here today, was to go over to Russia and we pay them. We buy seats for them to put our people into space on the Soyuz. And this comes at a real price because what we cannot do then is send our people up with all the equipment and everything they need to our own space station, which was developed just to do this kind of continuing research, the research in this new environment of space," Glenn said according to Voice of America.
At 77, Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space, in 1998.
President Obama and his administration, according to a report on CNN is behind the space program despite the grounding of the shuttle program currently.
"I am 100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future." Obama said in 2010.
The obama administration has outlined a program including a multibillion-dollar modernization of Kennedy Space Center, expansion of private-sector and commercial space industries and eventually human travel to Mars.
"By the mid-2030s I believe we can send people to orbit Mars and bring them safely back to Earth," Obama said. Landing on Mars will follow, and "I expect to be around to see it." reported CNN.
At the Christa McAuliffe Regional Public Charter School, which has students from Ashland, Holliston, Hopkinton, Natick and Framingham among other communities, eighth graders recently presented their space projects, including projects on exploration of Mars. The school, which is named after Framingham native and the first teacher in space who died tragically when Challenger exploded, focuses its 8th grade science curriculum on space exploration.