1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, the
first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, marking a beginning
for what was then called the race for space. For
many Americans, it was a particularly chilling moment in the
Cold War, an unexpected indication that the Communist superpower
was overtaking the United States in science and technology.
That following spring, another significant event in the space
race, in some ways even less expected, took place on the Syracuse
University campus. Franklin Story Musgrave 58,
H85, who had been admitted to the University without
a high school diploma, received a B.S. degree in statistical
mathematics. They saw that the Marines had helped me
make something more of myselfso they took a chance on
me, Musgrave says. I attended SU on the GI Bill
and I was also a walk-on member of the wrestling team, for
which I received room and board assistance on an athletic
happened so often in Syracuses long history of progressive
admission policies, taking a chance on a promising applicant
with an untraditional record paid offfor
the student, the University, and society. In 1967, after completing
medical school and serving as an Air Force doctor, Musgrave
joined the astronaut-training program at the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA). During the next 30 years
he pioneered many facets of space flight, serving as everything
from a spacesuit designer to the space-walking interstellar
repairman who led the team that fixed the Hubble Space Telescope
in 1993. I became an astronaut, he says, because
I was thinking about questions like, What kind of a
universe have I got? Whats my place in it? What does
it mean to be a human being?
who have contributed to human space exploration, Musgrave
worries about the American space programs future. Theres
been no vision, no trajectory, for quite some time,
he says. Columbia highlights the problem.
Indeed, when space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon
re-entry into the atmosphere last February, killing its crew
of seven and shocking an already nervous nation on the brink
of war in Iraq, the volume was turned up on a series of muted
debates about the American mission in space that has been
ongoing since the Apollo moon landings in the late 60s
and early 70s.
the issues under discussion, its first necessary to
understand that the continued existence of the American space
program is not on the table. In a society as vocally fractious
as ours, its significant that there is no apparent organized
movement, inside or outside of government, that opposes the
space program, per se. The history of the scientific
and technological development of space travel has made the
Earth a better place to live, and we still have huge benefits
to gain, says Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins 78,
who will command the next space shuttle mission. Congressman
Sherwood Boehlert 61, a member of the House Science
Committee whose fingers are in reach of NASAs purse
strings, agrees. Theres no question in my mind
that NASA has a long-range futurea very productive futureand
that the nation will continue to devote a considerable amount
of money to NASA, he says. While its difficult
to find anyone to challenge that assumption, its even
more difficult to find someone who is exactly sure about the
details of how that considerable amount of moneywhich
is currently more than $15 billion annuallyis going
to be spent.
Story Musgrave 58, H85 and Jeffrey Hoffman
perch atop a foot restraint on the remote manipulator
system arm of space shuttle Endeavour while repairing
the Hubble Space Telescope during a 1993 mission.
The Ambiguous Frontier
One of the positive legacies that could come out of
the Columbia disaster is a substantive national debate on
the future character of the space program, says Professor
Eric Spina, associate dean of the L.C. Smith College of Engineering
and Computer Science (ECS). We are at a critical juncture.
The decisions that will be made after the investigation will
have lasting effects, in the same way that the decisions made
during the 70s, after Apollo, resulted in our long-term
commitment to the space shuttle.
Davidson, like Spina, is an SU professor of mechanical and
aerospace engineering. Having conducted research projects
at such space-age hot spots as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, California, and Rockwell Internationals
Space Systems Division, Davidson hopes the reassessment will
lead to dynamic departures in the American space program.
Weve been flying the shuttles for 20 years and
its only now, since Columbia, that the public
is questioning why, he says. After Apollo, we
were supposed to develop an elaborate space transportation
system, of which the space shuttle was to be only one part.
Instead, we got just the shuttle, which was a tremendous compromise
based on the political realities of funding. It was not the
best way to advance NASAs mission. The whole program
has become just bits and pieces. Nobodys put it all
on the table and said, What do we want to do in space?
Commercialization? Tourism? Mars? Deep exploration?
stresses that there are larger questions to ponder before
any specific new plans can be drawn up. Do we have a
manifest destiny in space? he asks. What
is the priority of space in relation to the range of our pressing
needs: health care, the war on terrorism, and so on? We need
to start thinking about these thingsand we need to start
talking about them. I expect manned flight to remain part
of NASA, but I believe there will be less emphasis on it.
some scientists, including some at NASA, have questioned whether
the considerable costs and human risks of manned missions
can be justified in an age when sensory robotics and virtual
reality simulation techniques offer us digital eyes and ears
as well as remote-controlled arms and fingers in space. If
the scientists and administrators who share this belief tend
to express it in private, this is probably because they fear
the entire space effort might suffer devastating funding cuts
without the glamour of manned missions to keep
the media, the public, and the politicians interested. Im
afraid the ultimate rationale for man in space is still an
intangible, says Harry Lambright, professor of political
science and public administration at the Maxwell School. There
is a need to explore, an instinctual thrill in the adventure
of knowing the unknown. There is the opportunity to demonstrate
what we are capable of as human beings. Travel through space
becomes an irresistible model of what we can do.
Administrator Sean OKeefe G78 says a Mars
landing and deep space exploration are among the space
agencys long-term goals.
on the history of space exploration to NASA, as well as to
the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Air and
Space Museum, Lambright would like to see the agency, and
perhaps the entire society, reinvigorate itself by focusing
on satisfying those intangible urges. He is discouraged,
however, by a lack of political will that holds NASA back
from following through on the possibilities of space exploration.
We accept, on the basis of faith, that the scientific
research and development that goes into the space program
is a good thing and that we will make use of it over time,
if not right away, Lambright says. Whether thats
actually worth $15 to $20 billion a year is another matter
entirely. But to get the kind of funding needed for a serious
effort at space exploration, we would have to give politicians
something to sellsomething the public can put its hands
on. We hear talk of commercial potentials in space: mining,
manufacturing, or even tourism. But
all that is still only speculation. How do we mobilize the
public behind a program that no longer has national security
as a driving force, whose economic payoffs are arguable, and
whose real scientific payoffs dont necessarily require
manned missions? The truth is, space exploration costs a lot
of money, its dangerous, and its rationales are not
agrees that the best reasons for space exploration are not
material ones. He sees it as an endeavor essential to maintaining
continuity with our heritage and fulfilling national destiny.
We need manned exploration to keep a sense of exploration
and wonder and discovery. We need that new frontier and that
new knowledge. Its just as important for this country
today as it was 200 years ago. The necessity of keeping a
pioneer spirit alive in young people is worth the cost of
the entire space program, he says. NASA may be underestimating
the power of these ideals by failing to plainly make the case
for funding interplanetary landings and deep space exploration.
Lab missions dont galvanize the American public;
an exploration goal, such as Mars, does, he says. The
only time the public seems to show positive interest in the
space program is when exploration picturessuch as pictures
of Marsare sent back. But even that only holds interest
for a short time. Its got to be something like the Apollo
program. Feet have to touch new ground.
a self-described good liberal who worries about
the toll that a NASA budget aimed at Mars might take on social
problems, finds the possibility of attempting the trip irresistible.
In the big picture of the budget in this country, I
believe we can afford it, he says. Will we be
doing anything on Mars worth being there for? I dont
know, but Id like to keep the option open. Unfortunately,
I havent heard anyone say anything about the space program,
before Columbia or since, that has any degree of visionand
without leadership, it will not happen. Theres a big
vacuum out there.
Sean OKeefe G78, who assumed the leadership of
NASA in December 2001, is well aware of the space agencys
critics who see the space shuttle program as a political compromise
between a Mars landing and no space program at all. He is
quick to point out that Columbia was on a mission with
a clear agenda of practical, beneficial research tasks. Those
seven brave crew members who lost their lives were pursuing
140 distinct scientific experiments, all requiring the microgravity
conditions of the space shuttle, he says. They
were conducting cell growth experiments of value to the fight
against cancer. They were improving crop yields, developing
fire suppression techniques, aiding in the design of earthquake-resistant
buildings, understanding the effects of dust storms on our
water supply, and much more.
OKeefe, as much as anyone, has his eyes on the prize.
He stressed that its not simply the lack of a check
in the mail from Congress that is delaying a human departure
for Mars, but rather a very real list of scientific problems
that need to be solved. Before deep exploration involving
humans can take place, we must gain a greater understanding
of the prolonged effect of space travel on the human body.
We know from having crews spend five to six months aboard
the International Space Station that they typically experience
about a 30 percent degradation of muscle mass and 10 percent
degradation of bone mass, as well as other forms of cell degeneration.
Weve got to find a way to arrest that particular pattern,
OKeefe says. The other major obstacle we face
is mechanical: our propulsion capacity. We are certainly doing
things today marginally and incrementally better than we did
40 years ago, but were doing them very much the same
way. Current propulsion methods limit us to speeds in outer
space ranging from 17,500 to 35,000 miles per hour, which
means it would take 15 years to get to the edge of our own
solar system. We have to improve those speeds, while further
miniaturizing our power generation sources. So, yes, a landing
on Mars and deep space exploration are among our long-term
goals. But weve got some work to do in human endurance
physiology and power generation propulsion first.
Collins is just as proud of the shuttle programs achievements.
She cites a list of successes that includes the growing of
pure protein crystals in microgravity for biomedical experimentation
and the in-space repairs made to the Hubble telescope and
the Compton Observatory, extraordinarily valuable feats that
would have otherwise been impossible. She goes a step further
in evaluating the shuttle programs worth, as well. Having
people in low-Earth orbit is beneficial because we become
better citizens for having been in space, she says.
When you look back at the Earth from that vantage point,
you can see that the atmosphere is like the shell of an egg
or the skin of a potatothats how thin it is; thats
how little air there is to breathe. You also see how beautiful
the Earth isthe colors, the waters, the continents.
You learn to love our planet and you want to take care of
she couples her enthusiasm for the shuttle with optimism about
the future of exploration. She believes that NASA is moving
toward a Mars landing in much of what it does, even if that
progress is, as she puts it, by baby steps. For
example, the new space station under construction will be
capable of serving as a training facility for extended space
travel and as an embarkation point for boosters heading for
Mars and points unknown. Eventually we will go back
to the moon and on to Mars, she says with full confidence.
People will be traveling there for scientific research
as well as for economic reasons. I think its NASAs
job to pave the way and to start the exploring.
Jeff Ashby and Eileen Collins 78 peruse checklists
on space shuttle Columbia in 1999. As part of
their mission, they deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory,
the worlds most powerful X-ray telescope. Collins
also made history on the flight, becoming the first
woman to command a space shuttle.
Versus the Intangible
Can an undertaking as enormous as visiting another planet
be done incrementally, without the bold leadership that ECS
professor Eric Spina believes is necessary? The one shining
example of political initiative on the issue of space exploration
remains President John F. Kennedys pledge in 1961 that
American astronauts would land on the moon before the end
of that decade. So why, then, have the eight presidents since
Kennedy declined to set the same priority for a manned trip
to Mars or some equally compelling destination? To scale
it up to a national priority, as Kennedy did, you have to
have a reason, such as national security, and that worked
very well during the Cold War, Lambright says. Now,
we need machines to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
before we commit to doing it ourselves.
Musgrave, who has debunked conventional wisdom with an overpowering
effortlessness for much of his life, would not necessarily
welcome another Kennedy-type national mandate for the space
program. Actually, the Kennedy moon thing is a big part
of the problem we face today, Musgrave says. We
did just what Kennedy saidand then we packed up and
went home. He couched it in terms of international competition,
not space flight. If he was a more advanced thinker, he might
have used the Cold War to get the infrastructure in place.
But no, with him it was, Go to the moon; you win the
race; and thats all folks. We were not allowed
to develop a vision for space based on the real reason for
space flight: human curiosity.
Story Musgrave 58, H85 (center), now retired
from NASA, prepares for one of his six space shuttle
flights. Musgrave is a staunch supporter of exploration.
is in no way ambiguous about his hopes for the space program.
I want exploration, he says. That was what
the space program was about when I joined itand that
is what we have totally abandoned. We need to show that weve
made a Copernican shift and we know that the universe does
not go around the Earth. We need to seek the other.
Exploration becomes a mirror for who I am as an individual.
Its a mirror in which I can perceive my own existence
and the existence of my species. Then I can address the existential
question, What direction for myself and my species?
Those kinds of things are powerful and they touch people and
move people. Exploration can give people two gifts that are
otherwise just words: meaning and hope.
dismisses arguments over manned versus unmanned missions as
irrelevant. Ill take exploration any way I can
get it, he says. If you dont need humans,
you dont send humans. We should integrate the human
program and the robotic program in the service of exploration
rather than see them as opposing forces with different aims.
The robots should precede us and get a habitat ready for the
humans. To me, its all about explorationwhether
you go out there in space or dive down deep into the ocean
or use a microscope to get to molecular structure.
professor Harry Lambright hopes that Musgraves vision
can somehow find a way into public policy. Five hundred
years from now, nobody is going to remember Tang or Teflon
or any of those other products that came out of the American
space program, he says. Theyre going to
look back at us the way we look back at the explorersat
Columbus and Magellanand say, How far did they
go? What did they find? What did they make of it?
OKeefe finds broader significance in the act of exploration.
During those periods in history in which there has been
withdrawal from explorations, we have seen, as a cultural
phenomenon, a trend toward isolationism and stagnation,
OKeefe says. For example, 15th-century China had
an expansive fleet and a capacity for maritime exploration
that was without equal. They shut it down and there were long-term
consequences for that society. I believe that if we withdraw
from the human instinct for exploration and discovery, we
will do so to our detriment.
Piety Hill to Outer Space
Former astronaut Story Musgrave 58,
H85 made a record-breaking six space shuttle
flights, the last of these at age 61. The path that
Musgrave cut between the Hill and the heavens has
grown wider over the years.
Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins 78, a mathematics
and economics major in the College of Arts and Sciences,
became a NASA astronaut in 1991. The first woman ever
to command a space mission, she piloted the shuttle
to its historic rendezvous with the Russian Space
Station Mir in the first joint space venture of the
OKeefe G78, NASAs chief administrator,
earned a master of public administration degree at
the Maxwell School. He was a Maxwell faculty member
before President George W. Bush called on him to lead
Americas civilian space program in December
2001. The delicate job of spokesman for the Columbia
Accident Investigation Board was assigned to Air Force
Lieutenant Colonel Tyrone Woody Woodyard
85, a Newhouse public relations graduate. The
task force charged with performing an independent
evaluation of NASAs implementation of the boards
final recommendations includes SU Trustee Walter Broadnax
G75, the president of Clark Atlanta University.
Connections between SU and the space program extend
beyond the launchpads and executive suites to NASAs
research laboratories and even to the halls of Congress.
At the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland,
Bill Anselm 74, who studied electrical engineering
at the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer
Science, manages the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation
Satellite (ICESat) project, perhaps the most ambitious
attempt ever made to monitor the Earths climate
(see Earthly Observations, below). Congressman
Sherwood Boehlert 61, a member of the House
Science Committee, is charged with congressional oversight
of the space agency. His colleague, Congressman James
Walsh, whose district includes the University, was
recently instrumental in bringing the new Institute
for the Application of Geo-Spatial Technology, a NASA-related
research facility, to the campus of Cayuga Community
College in neighboring Auburn.
While many people associate NASA with manned space
missions, the agency has many ongoing unmanned initiatives
connected to studying the Earth from above. One such
effort is ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite),
an altimetry project that is part of NASAs Earth
Observing System. Our mission is to measure
the changing height of the surface of the Earth over
the seasons so we can accurately measure beach erosion,
vegetation, ice height, and the cryosphere [the part
of the atmosphere where ice crystals form],
says Bill Anselm 74, who manages the project.
We have developed amazing systems that measure
all these things with an enormous amount of accuracy.
ICESat and other unmanned programs might stand to
gain more funding if manned missions were dropped
or curtailed, Anselm is unabashed in his enthusiasm
and support for human space exploration. Weve
got to do it, says Anselm, a graduate of the
electrical engineering program in the L.C. Smith College
of Engineering and Computer Science. Weve
got to push the envelope for all of humanity. Our
strategic plan must include a permanent presence in
space as a major element.
hopes data gained by ICESat on the nature of ice will
contribute to a Mars mission that will investigate
ice formations that have been located on the red (or
is it red and white?) planet.