TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) - When trying to envision the future of space travel, one former astronaut says, you have to look to the past.
"The future of human space flight in our country is under discussion now and remains to be seen what the future holds," says former NASA astronaut Jeff Hoffman. "But while we are thinking about the future, it's important not to forget the past, to forget people like Ron (McNair), who made the ultimate sacrifice so that humans could learn how to live and work in orbit around the Earth and accomplish the many things that the shuttle has allowed us to do."
We've landed on the Moon, created the Hubble Telescope, built an International Space Station, landed a rover on Mars, flew by Pluto, and even learned of galaxies far, far away. All of that has just been in the past 50 years.
One goal in the not too distant future is sending people to Mars. NASA is in the process of building a new rocket called the Space Launch System or SLS. It is similar to the Saturn V rocket that was used to go to the Moon in the 70s, but with inspirations from the space shuttle.
"The space shuttle was built to do low Earth orbit missions, and this vehicle is built to go beyond Earth orbit," explains Michael Ciannilli, the Apollo, Challenger, Columbia Lessons Learned Program Manager. "So we're talking potential endeavors to lunar orbit or beyond. So it's exciting to look towards a program that's going to get us further from Earth, further, deeper into space for more exploration."
Retired NASA Captain Jon McBride says to get us deep into space and beyond, it's going to take help from Congress.
"We really need to get some substantial funding here in the next year or two if we really want to meet our deadline of maybe returning to the Moon by 2030 and on to Mars sometime in the 2030s," said McBride.
Private companies, such as SpaceX and Mars One, also have their eyes on the red planet, which includes plans for a one-way trip to Mars. That is about 249 million miles away from Earth.
"I think bringing in commercial entities into the program and having commercial companies want to fly into space, fly people and cargo is exciting," expresses Ciannilli. "Making access more available to private citizens, I think is an exciting thing as well, getting more people interested in the future."
Robots are one item that will continue to be key in any space exploration.
"I think robots and robotic controls will play a major part in every bit of the future exploration we do in space, both up on the space station now and when we go back to the moon and Mars," said McBride.
Through its Lessons Learned program, NASA hopes the next generation will learn from the past to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
"We are endeavoring to take the crews of Challenger and Columbia and Apollo, put them back to work with us, go back on the road with them and have them share their stories through the artifacts to help the future be more successful," said Ciannilli.
The future of space travel is wide open and NASA says we're currently paving the way to turn dreams into reality.