Candidates' Views Differ on Space Exploration

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Advocates of NASA's plan to return to the moon are concerned that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has said he will raid NASA's budget to fund education. While the issue of space exploration hasn't gotten much attention this campaign season, it is a topic on which the candidates do differ.

Looking Back on Shuttles Facing 'Final Countdown'

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The orbital thrusters on the side of the nose of Columbia. i

These orbital thrusters on the side of the nose of the Columbia — recovered from the shuttle wreckage — were just below the spot where astronaut William McCool sat during the descent. Pat Duggins hide caption

itoggle caption Pat Duggins
The orbital thrusters on the side of the nose of Columbia.

These orbital thrusters on the side of the nose of the Columbia — recovered from the shuttle wreckage — were just below the spot where astronaut William McCool sat during the descent.

Pat Duggins
Astronauts Rick Husband and William McCool sat behind the windows from this windshield frame. i

Columbia astronauts Rick Husband and William McCool sat behind the windows from this windshield frame in the final moments before the shuttle disintegrated in 2003. Pat Duggins hide caption

itoggle caption Pat Duggins
Astronauts Rick Husband and William McCool sat behind the windows from this windshield frame.

Columbia astronauts Rick Husband and William McCool sat behind the windows from this windshield frame in the final moments before the shuttle disintegrated in 2003.

Pat Duggins

A quarter-century after the first space shuttle blasted off from Cape Canaveral in 1981, the shuttle program is still struggling to find its true mission.

It's a criticism many space program observers have made as the shuttle program comes to an end in 2010. In his new book, Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program, Pat Duggins, a senior news analyst from member station WMFE in Central Florida, recounts the controversial history of the shuttle program, which has been marred by two fatal disasters and exorbitant costs.

Duggins, who has covered more than 85 shuttle launches, began his career during the 1986 Challenger disaster, interviewing witnesses and offering eyewitness accounts as wreckage from the shuttle came in to the Kennedy Space Center hangar.

Duggins traces the shuttle's history, looking at NASA's secretive missions, and its more well-known missions to supply the International Space Station and repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Following the disintegration of the Challenger in 1986 and the Columbia in 2003, Duggins examines NASA's struggle to rebound and define the shuttle program's mission until its retirement.

He includes interviews with many key shuttle personnel, including astronaut John Young, who was the commander on the 1981 Columbia mission. He also looks past 2010 to NASA's next major effort: the Orion Crew Exploration Capsule, which is slated to go to the moon and Mars.

Scott Simon spoke with Duggins about the shuttle program and its legacy.

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