West Virginian and former science correspondent reflects on private space flight

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The recent race to the edge of the atmosphere has built hopes for space tourism and has former Science Correspondent for ABC Television, Radio and West Virginia native Jim Slade’s attention.

On WAJR’s Talk of the Town, Slade said Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos used proven technology to make that first step toward real private space flight. But, Slade stops short of recognizing people on the flights as astronauts.

” This is a logical step forward and I’m glad to see it,” Slade said,” But in my mind, astronauts are explorers who contribute to knowledge and growth and these folks are passengers.”

In May of 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard conducted a successful orbit of the earth in the Mercury Freedom 7 in response to the Soviet Union Sputnik mission about three years earlier. The flight boosted confidence in the United States space program and set the stage for the Gemini program.

” Alan Shepard, his 15-minute flight lifted him to an altitude of 116-miles and these guys on Bezos’s flight did 62,” Slade said,” Which is barely across the line that takes you into space.”

According to Slade, space tourism is a very small part of the economic side of space travel. The real goal is to develop rockets that could help NASA take astronauts to the moon or reliably have the capability to resupply the International Space Station(ISS).

Elon Musk and SpaceX and the Crew Dragon capsule delivered four astronauts to the International Space Station during a mission in April of this year. The mission was the first to ever be completed with a reusable booster.

” Musk at least I know, wants to be one of the contractors that actually carry people back to the moon,” Slade,” Real explorers who have a reason for being there.”

Slade still thinks Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will play a role in the future of space exploration. He believes the government will find it more budget friendly to use the services of private contractors as in the past.

” I think they’re going to be players, even NASA during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs used private contractors,” Slade said,” But, those were people like North American Aviation and Boeing.”

Slade acknowledges the accomplishment of reaching the edge of space, but says the real race is to the moon, ISS or even Mars.

” Musk already has them, he’s servicing the space station already,” Slade said,” He’s the guy giving us transportation to and from the space station and I think that’s thrilling- that’s really thrilling.”