Former Space Shuttle Astronaut
A veteran of six shuttle flights, Musgrave, who flew on all five orbiters, has seven degrees, including a doctorate in medicine. During his 30 years with NASA, he worked as a part-time trauma surgeon. As a pilot, Musgrave has logged 18,000 hours in 160 types of aircraft. He is the author of The NASA Northrop T-38: Photographic Art from an Astronaut Pilot (see p. 71).
You’ve flown six shuttle missions. Did being in orbit ever start to feel routine?
No. You cannot get enough of Mother Earth, and the heavens too: the stars, the aurora, and shooting stars. You can’t get enough of playing in an environment you were not evolved to be in. It’s the art of the mission — how smooth you can pull it off one day after another. Not in a compulsive way. But it got better every flight. I got better too.
In what way?
What I could get done up there. I flew in my 40s, 50s, 60s. I was also a communicator at mission control for 25 missions. I understood that world. I flew with 27 different astronauts, with 17 rookies. Spaceflight is not reflexive — it’s not kick the tires and light fires. It’s a very complicated, artistic business. You have to like the space business, not just the flying.
How do you feel about the retirement of the space shuttle program?
I have purely personal affection for it. I never wanted to do that particular machine in the early ’70s — I thought it was the wrong idea. But American engineering pulled it off, and it did what it did magnificently. A lot of new technologies, new science, and new ways of doing things in space, but at massive cost, fragility, and vulnerability. It’s had an awful long run. And everything has its timing. The timing now is strange, when you’re doing away with the only way to get to the space station. It really is time to move on to the next one. But it turns out we’re moving on to nothing.
How do you feel about the Obama administration’s cancellation of the Ares/Constellation program?
The entire future of space policy — it’s dead. It’s nothing. We need access to space in the year 2010, because the shuttle is going away. We need access this year, so what is the response? We’re going to think about it for five years, and then make a decision. Which means we’re 15 years to getting access to space. That is not my kind of space program.