NASA Astronaut and Flight Directors Weigh in on Commercial Spaceflight

Should NASA focus more on exploring or hauling?

In June, the historic Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island kicked off a monthlong celebration of Apollo 11. The museum, which is located right around the corner from the old Grumman facility where the lunar modules were actually built, has a long history with the Apollo program.

At that event, Inverse heard from three legendary figures in NASA history, former flight director Milt Winder, Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, and former flight director Gerry Griffin, and we found out what they think about the space agency’s present and future partnerships with private space companies.

Winder, one of NASA’s most experienced flight directors, worked on Apollo 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, and 15. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also worked on all three Skylab missions and the Space Shuttle.

His extensive history gives him unique insight into what the future of private spaceflight might look like.

“I think ultimately what we’re going to see is low-Earth orbit, like for instance, the space station, going to and from the space station,” Winder told Inverse. He predicts this will free up NASA to go farther out into space.

NASA
In addition to being flight director through the Apollo program, Milt Winder (right) also worked on the Skylab mission.

“That’s going to be the domain of the commercial sector, which I think is good, because it leaves NASA to think more about deep space — and I don’t mean to minimize the importance and the difficulty of just getting to low-Earth orbit — but it’s a hauling job … it’s not like going to another place in our solar system. I think that leaves NASA to explore, to get back in the exploration business.”

Astronaut Fred Haise was the lunar module pilot on the infamous Apollo 13 mission.

He agrees with Winder that NASA should focus less on hauling and more on exploring.

NASA
Fred Haise, renaissance man.

“NASA should not be in the truck business,” Haise told Inverse.

“To date at least, it’s basically been [doing] servicing and logistics support for the space station, should not be NASA’s mission, theirs should be exploration, so I think that [commercial space travel] fits very well and to any extent they can plug a man into the lunar program or anything Mars, that makes sense to save dollars to make it happen, that’s great.”

Retired flight director Gerald Griffin began his career at NASA on the Gemini program before taking on the mighty challenge of Apollo. Since then, he’s had his fair share of involvement with the film industry. Griffin was a technical advisor for the Apollo 13 movie, as well as Contact and Deep Impact. In the epic HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon, he was played by actor David Clyde Carr. Most recently, Griffin was a technical consultant on Ronald D. Moore’s new alt-history sci-fi show for Apple TV+, For All Mankind.

He, too, has a positive view of commercial spaceflight contractors.

NASA
Griffin – yes, with the cigar – and everyone at Mission Control celebrate the splashdown of Apollo 13

“The more I see of it, the more impressed I am with these companies. I see them doing things like bringing the rockets back, two of them at the same time and landing them vertically and reusing them, that’s the thing,” Griffin told Inverse.

Especially compared to the old-school NASA mission control centers, Griffin says he’s really impressed with commercial space efforts.

“You see them supporting a mission and their control center is a bunch of tables with laptop computers on it and it works fine.”

Media via NASA, Video by Scott Snowden for Inverse