As NASA prepared to launch the Space Shuttle Endeavor on its last flight, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke with ABC News about life after the shuttle. After a final shuttle launch this summer, the U.S. will be unable to launch its own astronauts into space, and will instead rely on the Russians to carry people to and from the International Space Station. This period, which is expected to last until the middle of the decade, is known as The Gap.
ABC NEWS: With the upcoming final two launches of Space Shuttle, one of the questions that a lot of people are asking about is The Gap -- the gap for the U.S. ability to put Americans into space on its own spacecraft. We knew this was coming. How did you approach the possibility of having to endure a significant gap?
BOLDEN: I think it was easy for me to approach it because as you said, everybody knew it was coming. The big hurdle for us was to get agreement on the part of all five partners, us included, that we should extend the International Space Station through 2020, because that is the anchor for all future exploration for us. Once we got everybody on board with that, we were a lot more comfortable.
ABC NEWS: How concerned are you about relying on our Russian partners for this interim period? What hurdles does that create?
BOLDEN: The primary hurdle it creates is that people will become comfortable with it and won't feel the urgency that we feel to bring back a U.S. domestic capability to get our own astronauts and our partner nation astronauts to the International Space Station and other Low Earth Orbit destinations. You know, we tend to be shortsighted and our memory is short. I don't want people to get comfortable that the International Space Station is still operating and we don't need an American capability. We must have American capability.
ABC NEWS: How have relations with the Russian partners been in terms of knowing that once the Shuttle is firmly retired that we can rely on them as we need to?
BOLDEN: The Russians have been very reliable partners throughout our history, and I always go back and tell people that we are where we are today because of two things. One was the willingness of the Russians at the very outset of the program to provide, if you will, the nucleus of what has now become the International Space Station. The first two elements were the Functional Cargo Block, a power module that maneuvered everything around, and then the brains for the Station, the Service Module, because we weren't quite ready to put our own Service Module and Crew Modules up yet.
The second time they came to the fore was in another contingency, and that was after the Columbia accident. We would not have had a capability to get our astronauts to the International Space Station and continue the development of the Station had it not been for that. But I go back again -- I don't want anyone to get comfortable with that partnership and reliance on them because it is critical that as quickly as we can, we facilitate the success of American entities to deliver our own people to space.