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May 16, 2011 7:47 PM by Matt Stafford

Locals looking at space travel after the shuttle is retired

The Space Shuttle Endeavour is in space after a successful liftoff Monday morning. Now the United States only has one space shuttle mission remaining before the program is retired, then some serious decisions need to be made about the future of the space program and how we get Americans to space. Part of the process of moving forward will happen in Colorado Springs.

"We have the second or third largest space economy in the country -- depending on what year it is -- so whatever happens, Colorado will have a large role in that," says Janet Stevens, a vice president for the Space Foundation.

As Endeavour blasts into the new frontier, so does America; preparing for an era of space travel after the shuttle has retired.

"It makes sense to end the program, it's been going 30 years and the technology is pretty much 30 year old technology; so that part doesn't make you scratch your head." says Stevens. "The question is, how did we get here without something to replace it?"

The Space Foundation, which is partly based in Colorado Springs, works to promote space exploration through education and public policy. The industry is looking at a big shift.

"NASA is moving to a more commercialized model," Stevens explains. "A lot of things start in government programs and then they become commercialized as they become more commonplace."

However, there's a problem as private businesses take over.

"Nobody's ready yet, and it's going to be a number of years before anyone is," says Stevens.

Stevens' guess is five to 20 years. In that time the U.S.A. will continue unmanned missions and possibly buy seats on other countries' rockets -- like Russia.

Locally people have different views on how to move forward.

"For awhile, until all the debt is paid down, the government itself shouldn't put any money (toward the program)." says Jason Shepperly.

"Private investment in the space sector, that would be a good way to continue to develop our technology but at less cost," John Osborn explains.

"I'd like to see us continue the space program so that we're number one," Bruce Jungk says. "I think being number two, or renting space from the Russians, is not what we've been used to."

In the mean time people are getting ready to watch one last shuttle launch. Atlantis is scheduled for July. Once retired, the shuttles will be placed in museums around the country.

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