Scott Simon Soars Through (Simulated) Space

There are only a few more missions before the space shuttles go off to museums. Host Scott Simon previews his trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he takes a ride with Cmdr. Mark Kelly in the space shuttle simulator.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

After almost 30 years, the U.S. Space Shuttle program is drawing to a close, though a Senate panel approved a plan this week that would extend it for another year. There'll be one, maybe two or more last missions before the shuttles go off to museums and the U.S. manned space program prepares for what may be next.

Commander Mark Kelly will captain the Endeavour Space Shuttle STS-134, now scheduled to launch next February. Next Saturday we'll take a ride with him in the space shuttle simulator. The SIM's a replica Endeavour that shakes, rattles, rolls and roars as in actual flight while sophisticated graphics flash by in the windows - Cap Canaveral, clouds of smoke, flashes of light and finally stars. If you've never lifted off in a rocket before, the SIM seems utterly real.

MARK KELLY: Okay. Look at the clock - seven, six seconds.

SIMON: Yeah.

KELLY: The main engines are going to start. See, these (unintelligible)

SIMON: Yeah.

KELLY: Two, one, liftoff. Watch the power go by.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KELLY: We're going straight up. And want you to say: Houston, Endeavour, roll program.

SIMON: Houston, Endeavour, roll program.

KELLY: And then the capcom would say: Roger, roll, Endeavor.

SIMON: The idea is to make astronauts know what to expect, what they'll see, hear, even feel in space flight. But they train in the SIM day after day so that ground controllers can throw problems at them. The controllers push buttons to make fuel cells fail, oxygen leak, and computers go blank, then sit back to see how the astronauts scramble to bring themselves back home.

Next Saturday, arrive with the crew of Endeavor STS-134, which is currently scheduled to lift off next February, as the crew trains for the flight that will write their names into history, and muse about the future of American space flight.

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