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So the Space Shuttle program is ending after more than 30 years. I grew up in Orlando, regularly watching the shuttle take off. It had a huge effect on me.

Now, with the program ending, we will need to find new ways to reach low-earth orbit, and also new ways to expand manned exploration beyond low-earth orbit and into the rest of the solar system.

Well, I got to talk with Mike Massimino, the Astronaut who's always going on Conan, Bobby Braun, NASA's Chief Technologist, Lori Garver, the Deputy Administrator at NASA and...yes Charlie freaking Bolden - NASA's Administrator.

Charlie Bolden's boss is...yes...Barack Obama.

NASA has clearly embraced the spirit of Nerdfighteria and I can't tell you how much that means to me. Thanks to NASA for understanding how amazing this community is. And, also, thanks to Nerdfighteria, for being awesome in the first place.


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A Bunny
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Good morning John.

People keep asking me this question. They say, "Hank, how do you feel about the end of the manned exploration of space with the final launch of the space shuttle?"

And to those people I say, "How did you feel when sitcoms ended with the last episode of Seinfeld?" Actually, I think I may have stumbled onto a pretty good metaphor here. Seinfeld, like the space shuttle, was a long running and critically acclaimed program. And it may have, just like the space shuttle program, been the best program of its time.

It was revolutionary. It changed everything, but everything has a beginning and everything has an end, and now there are new, revolutionary sitcoms, like 30 Rock, The Office, and Parks and Rec. Seinfeld had to step aside and as much as it pains me to say it, that's what's happening to the space shuttle, it's time is done. The question is, what is our 30 Rock here?
Turns out, I'm not the ideal person to answer these questions, 'cause, you know, I don't work at NASA.
Luckily, these people do!
[flashes image of 4 people in a teleconference call]
Yes, I got to ask some questions of people at NASA via video, including Charlie Bolden, the guy who is in charge of NASA.
So first question, how are we going to get the space astronauts to the space station without the space shuttle?
Charlie Bolden: The same way we have been getting there almost entirely since the Columbia accident. We're going to take them all the way to Russia, down to Kazakhstan and they will launch out of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz Spacecraft.
Hank: So I think we can all agree that that's not particularly ideal. So the question becomes, well we're using the Soyuz Capsule now and we will be for the foreseeable future but what's the next step? And for the answer to that question- this is so cool- I'm going to kick it over to Bobby Braun, NASA's chief technologist.
Bobby Braun: We're going to have a whole host of American vehicles traveling to space with American crews. And the best part about that is that those systems are being designed today by companies all around the country. I can't tell you exactly what system is going to fly because it's somewhat of a competition, somewhat of a race among these American companies. But I am looking forward to it, to seeing their vehicles in flight.
Hank: So the private sector and Russia take care of getting to low earth orbit and into the space station and stuff. What does NASA's focus become?
Bobby Braun: NASA's going to turn its attention to getting out into deep space, to going places that we frankly haven't been to before.
Hank: That is the stuff that gets me going, Bobby Braun. Don't get me wrong I love low orbit, low orbit is great, it's a fantastic laboratory, it's where we need to be to learn about space and its effects on people. But the question is: How do we get to those new destinations?
Charlie Bolden: Hank, I'll tell you what. First thing I want is faster rockets. When you talk about trying to get some awesome back into things, we've got to get some awesome into our ability to get from Point A to Point B in space.
Mike Massimino: If we really want to get beyond North Orbit and do some exploring, we're going to need a better faster way, more powerful engines, rocket engines, to get us further out into the Solar System.
Hank: That last fella was Mike Massimino, an astronaut who coincidentally, completely coincidentally, is speaking at VidCon about social media and outer space I suppose. I have a hard time expressing how excited I am about these things or even understanding why I'm so excited about it.

We're just now starting to poke our nose out of this pond. This sphere that we live on created us, we were built for it. But our instinct, we can't deny this push for awesome draws us out. Exploration of the Solar System isn't something that you measure in, like, fiscal quarters, it's something that takes decades. Even generations and that's one of the most beautiful things about it.

We're not doing this just for us. The body of work, the body of science necessary for this undertaking is massive. But we do undertake it,because while we were built for this Earth, we were also built to explore. We're a slave to the awesome, we must do it. NASA's main Space Exploration Program might end up being one of our generations most significant legacies for mankind. A beginning and a continuation of a great human endeavour. And for a final word, I give you Lori Garver, NASA's Deputy Administrator.
Lori Garver: We are very excited about the future. At NASA, we're all about increasing the awesome.
Hank: John, I'll see you on Friday.