As a pioneer of the US space programme who risked his life on three spaceflights and almost lost it on his fourth - Apollo 13 - former Navy Capt Jim Lovell could be forgiven for feeling a bit let down.

Isn't the US space programme a shadow of its former self?

"You've got to look at it in a broad context," says Lovell who is at the Show with host AlliedSignal to promote his book about his perilous Apollo 13 mission.

"There was a natural excitement about the missions and adulation of astronauts in the early days. After all, people had been talking about flying to the Moon for hundreds of years. This was the climax."

Then came the anti-climax. When Apollo 11 came back after the first Moon landing, it was a bit of a "let down", Lovell says. Some engineers even suggested that the Apollo programme should end.

The scientists wanted Apollo to go on and were disappointed when it ended with Apollo 17. The next idea, of building a Space Station, wasn't quite in the same excitement league. The go-ahead was given for a Space Shuttle designed to serve the Station, but not the Station itself!

When the Station was resurrected in 1984 by President Reagan, " was just too costly, too big and complicated", says Lovell.

The catalyst was the collapse of the Soviet Union and realisation, with costs ever increasing, that Russia would be a good partner.

With Russia joining Japan, Canada and Europe, the cost was spread. "This is all part of the shrinking world we have seen in communications. It's international. It gives great rapport," says Lovell.

The biggest tragedy, he says, is that the Saturn 5 rocket that boosted the Apollo to the Moon was scrapped. "It was a magnificent engineering device. It could carry much more into orbit than the Shuttle."

The recent Mars hysteria has created a "...thrust to go to Mars and bring back some samples. This could be the catalyst."

Lovell, however, still finds it "...hard to be convinced [that the hyped-up rock] actually came from Mars".

Lovell believes that "...we will send manned missions to Mars. We have the technology. The problems will be time, money and effort."

He is, however, best associated with another planet - the Earth.

The picture of Earthrise over the Moon taken on Apollo 8 has proved to be one of the inspirations of the Space Age.

What Lovell remembers most about the sight of the Earth from lunar orbit was that " could cover it with your thumb. The Earth disappears. It makes you realise how insignificant it is in the Universe but also how fortunate we are to have it to live on. You ought to take all the world's leaders out there and tell them to hide the Earth with their thumbs".

That could put a lot of things into perspective.



Source: Flight Daily News