Ex-astronaut Hawley laments end of shuttles

It’s the end of an era — but there’s always some small hope that one day another inspiring mission will take its place.

In an interview with the Journal-World and in a keynote address Friday evening at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H., former astronaut and Kansas University professor Steve Hawley talked about the decommission and retirement of the space shuttle Discovery, which he traveled to space in multiple times, including on the mission 22 years ago that launched the Hubble deep-space telescope.

Hawley, who teaches in the department of physics and astronomy, said the end of the shuttle was a sad time personally and for American space exploration.

“I’m glad it’ll be in a museum; it’s a unique piece of history,” he said, “but unfortunately it tells the story of what we used to do, not what we do now.”

Americans will now need the help of spacecraft from other nations to get to space, and Hawley said he was disappointed more didn’t support NASA and its programs.

“It boils down to national will,” he said. “It was great to see people interested in the shuttle (this week) and watching it fly over Washington — that’s fabulous. But I wish they were there and interested when we had the program running.”

Hawley spoke at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Leadership Kansas program, a business ideas forum in which 40 selected leaders from across the state travel and participate in various activities over a six-month period, “educating them to better serve the state,” said John Federico, executive director.

Gov. Sam Brownback also spoke briefly at the event, introducing the 40 class members and joking with the audience of Leadership Kansas alumni.

“Life is relational,” he said, emphasizing the networking opportunities of the 34-year-old program.

Hawley’s speech recalled anecdotes of his time with NASA but also highlighted his Kansas roots, growing up in Salina.

He praised the engineering accomplishments of the shuttle program and said it had “inspired a whole generation of men and women into careers in engineering and science.”

Ultimately, he was cautiously optimistic about the future of American endeavors in space.

“I’m hoping that we’ll make the people and money investment to do something exciting again,” he said. “But I don’t know when that might be.”