INTERVIEW: German astronaut: Work can be done without space shuttles
By Joachim Baier Jul 15, 2011, 2:46 GMT
Darmstadt, Germany - German astronaut and European Space Agency official Thomas Reiter is not worried about the end of the space shuttle era.
Reiter, 53, director of human spaceflight and operations at the European Space Agency (ESA), told the German Press Agency dpa that there has been enough time to get ready for the end of the 30-year-old shuttle fleet.
He spoke with dpa about European scientific efforts aboard the International Space Station and the US shift to commercial cargo and crew transport after the shuttle's retirement this month.
The Atlantis is making the final space shuttle flight with a planned return to Earth next week.
dpa: What effects will the end of the shuttle programme have on European space operations?
Reiter: Of course, it is clear that we will lose the opportunity to bring back to Earth large quantities of material. However, even without shuttles, we remain in a position to further pursue our scientific programme until at least the year 2020. We have had the chance to prepare ourselves for that for long enough. In our Columbus laboratory (aboard the International Space Station), we are carrying out numerous experiments on materials science, life sciences and the physics of liquids.
dpa: Do you expect delays?
Reiter: Over a transition period, we will experience certain bottlenecks to bring back samples. But that will have only a minimal effect on our scientific programme. Besides, the Americans are working to develop a new transport system. If it goes according to schedule, we can count on having at our disposal a larger capacity to bring things back by 2014 at the latest. For access to the International Space Station (ISS), we can also resort to our own ATV space transporter, which can carry to space up to 8 tonnes of freight at a time.
dpa: The new US space vehicles are to be built by private companies. Do you have any safety concerns about that?
Reiter: Of course, we must verify that these companies' systems are as safe as those that were built by the state. But shuttle development was also done by industry. The only difference with the new procedure is that the companies are now bringing in their own capital. So there are in fact big similarities with the way that the shuttles and the Apollos were operated.
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