Commander of Final Space Shuttle Flight Reflects on the Future of Manned Flight


Christopher J. Ferguson, Commander, STS-135

NASA has created a new office, the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, to oversee manned flight and International Space Station operations.  The Pennsylvania native who commanded the final space shuttle flight says he’s seeing strong public interest in America’s space program since bringing the shuttle Atlantis back to earth last month.

Commander Christopher Ferguson says the future of the country’s space program is up to the American people, and what he’s hearing so far is that a dollar spent on space travel for humans is a good dollar spent.  He says there’s a silent majority of people who believe we’re on the right track. 

Ferguson says we had to stop flying the shuttle, in order to pay for a safer vehicle to take us into low earth orbit and beyond.  

Ferguson says when we lost the space shuttle Columbia in 2003; we realized the shuttle had a finite amount of life left in it.  He says we realized it’s not the safest vehicle we had hoped for when it was developed. He adds its impractical with today’s funding to support the continued operation of the space shuttle and develop the new vehicles we’re going to use to go beyond low earth orbit. 

The new NASA directorate will manage construction of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.   It will be able to carry four astronauts on 21 day missions beyond low earth orbit. The multi-purpose crew vehicle is in the testing phase. The directorate will also manage development of a new  heavy-lift Space Launch System.


**The photo  of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Launch Abort System test vehicles and the photo of Commander Chris Ferguson are provided courtesy of NASA.


Space Shuttle Atlantis Launches Just about on Schedule

The space shuttle Atlantis blasted off just a couple of minutes later than scheduled, finding a window of good weather to head off on its final mission. STS-135 is the last flight of  NASA’s space shuttle program, which began in 1981.

Christopher Ferguson is the commander of the historic mission. The Philadelphia native is a graduate of St. Martha Elementary School, Archbishop Ryan High School and Drexel University.  He joined NASA in 1998 after a career in the Navy.

We spoke to Ferguson in a reporter’s round robin by telephone prior to the mission.  He said every commander feels a little bit of pressure to make sure the mission goes well, and this one is no exception.  He says despite the attention surrounding the mission,  they still have a very tight timeline and a complex mission to pull off.

Ferguson says the fact the shuttle program  is ending in July 2011 is no surprise, we’ve known about this since President Bush laid forth his vision for space exploration after we lost  the shuttle Columbia in 2003.  While Ferguson is sad to see the program go away, he compared it to selling your first car.  He says there’s a little piece of you that doesn’t want to let it go, but  in order to go on to bigger and better things, you have to sell the one you have now.  He says in order to take the next step in the space program, we’re going to have to shut down the shuttle.  

Ferguson hopes the attention being paid to the historic flight will re-energize the public’s enthusiasm for the space program. He says NASA will have a very narrow window where it’s thrust into the limelight. He think’s it’s imperative that the taxpaying public and Congress capitalize on that momentum to make sure our path to low earth orbit is charted very, very clearly.  

He says even as the shuttle program ends, there will still be Americans on the International Space Station.  Ferguson  says the U. S. has contracted with our Russian partners to take Americans to the ISS.

By the way, Ferguson tells us  he’s a huge Phillies, Flyers, Eagles and 76ers fan.   He still has family living in the Philadelphia area.

Ferguson will have three months of post flight activities when the mission is over, and still has not set his future plans now that the shuttle program is ending.

**All photos courtesy of NASA.

Philadelphia Native Commands Final Space Shuttle Flight

Christopher J. Ferguson, Commander, STS-135

The last mission for the U S Space Shuttle program is scheduled for lift off the morning of July 8.  A Pennsylvania native will be the commander of the flight.

Christopher Ferguson, a retired Navy Captain, was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Archbishop Ryan High School and Drexel University. He joined NASA in 1998.  The Atlantis flight will be his third space shuttle mission.  He also served as commander of STS-126, the November, 2008 flight of Endeavour and pilot of STS-115, the September 2006 flight of Atlantis.  Commander Ferguson served as spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM)  for STS-118, 120, 128 and 129.

Ferguson says the four member crew for this flight of Atlantis has a very busy, event-filled, packed 12 day mission that they will have to pull off before they can finish up on the runway and celebrate the 30 year history of the space shuttle program.

Ferguson believes the legacy of the shuttle program is the inspiration it provides.  He remembers watching the very first shuttle launch on a television in a college cafeteria.  He remembers thinking it would just be fantastic to be part of a program like that.

Ferguson says Atlantis has the right crew for the right time.  He says they had only nine months to train, and four crew members to do it with, and they’ve managed to get an awful lot of work done.  He adds it’s an experienced crew.

Commander Ferguson still has family living in the Philadelphia area.  Prior to entering the space program, he was a Navy pilot. He received his commission from the Navy ROTC program at the University of Pennsylvania.

**Photos Courtesy of NASA.