Saturday, October 27, 2012

Questions and Answers With Space Shuttle Astronaut Mike Mullane

I recently had the enormous privilege of interviewing retired pilot and former NASA astronaut Mike Mullane. In a quick Q&A session, it was great to ask Mike about his opinions on the the past, present and future of human space flight.

At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career exploring space?
I was twelve years old when Sputnik’s launch by the Russians started the space race.  As soon as American astronauts were selected (the Mercury 7 Astronauts) I knew I wanted to be an astronaut.

How important do you feel the space shuttle was in terms of allowing us to take the next step and construct something as huge as the International Space Station?
The ISS could not have been constructed without the Space Shuttle.  The robotics of its “arm”, its ability to carry large payloads, and the presence of spacewalking astronauts were all essential to build the ISS.

What are your feelings about the retirement of a flying machine as great as the shuttle, and the fact that now, US astronauts have to fly on the Russian Soyuz in order to go to the ISS?  
Retiring the shuttle was the right decision.  If we want to put astronauts back on the moon, on asteroids, and/or Mars, we need a vehicle that can fly out of earth orbit.  The shuttle cannot do that.  But I’m saddened that America’s financial situation makes it unlikely that any deep space exploration by humans will occur for many, many years.  It’s a national tragedy that we have to rely on the Russians to put Americans in space.

One of NASA'S main goals for the future is to land a man on Mars. Do you feel that in order to go to places such as this, man needs to return to the moon, so that we can practice techniques such as landing and rendezvous?  
No.  We know how to land and rendezvous.  What we need to better understand is how to protect astronauts during multi-year missions (as will be a mission to Mars).  The ISS will allow the opportunity to better understand the hazards of long space flights.

Countries such as India and China have expressed their desire to land a man on the moon, and have their own space station by the 2020's. Do you feel that older space faring nations like the US and Russia need to work together with these countries, rather than having a divide?  
India, yes.  It’s a democracy.  China, no. China needs to make some movement toward democracy. 

Editor's note:
This interview was originally published on October 27 2012 with the prior consent of astronaut Mike Mullane.
A big thanks to Mike for taking the time to share with me his opinions. If you want to learn more about Mike and his career as a pilot and astronaut be sure to read his excellent book entitled "Riding Rockets" which is available on his website:

Thank you for reading Irish Space Blog!