Former NASA Mission Operations Director Gene Kranz told audience members at last week's Government Technology Conference Southwest in Austin, Texas, that the country needs to make space exploration a priority in this struggling economic climate.
Kranz, who in 1970 led the ground team that guided the troubled crew of Apollo 13 home safely, recounted his experience as flight director for the Apollo 13 mission and others during his time with NASA.
In a question and answer session at the end of his talk, Kranz, said he hopes President Barack Obama's administration places as much emphasis on the space program as the U.S. has in the past, and that such programs are necessary to keep America competitive. Kranz urged the Obama administration to continue the direction set out by NASA administrator Michael Griffin, whose tenure ended Jan. 20. He said that under Griffin, NASA has had its best leader in two decades.
Video: Watch Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz urge continued support for space exploration.
The American public ultimately will have to press the government to spend economic stimulus money wisely, he said, and added it's important for state and local governments to use their influence and encourage science and technology as a priority for the nation.
"I believe the nation needs the (space) program, needs to develop the new technologies; it needs to have something that inspires young people to aspire to engineering and science and mathematics, to pick up the hard subjects and carry them forward," said Kranz, "because I think our country needs these kinds of people to remain competitive in the future."
If man is ever going to endeavor farther out into space than the moon, we will have to learn to assemble equipment in space. That, however, isn't likely with the prevailing attitude toward space, Kranz said.
"We seem to have a throwaway mentality in the United States," said Kranz, adding that components of the Apollo missions could have been used for more missions, and Skylab could have gone further than it did. "We build things and then we don't extract the maximum benefit from each one of these systems -- (it's) part of a lack of truly a national space plan."
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