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Space Shuttle Discovery Prepares for Launch

ED GORDON, host:

The countdown clock is ticking toward NASA's launch of space shuttle Discovery. Its seven-member crew is scheduled to lift off tomorrow from Florida's Kennedy Space Center. Discovery's mission will be the first manned space voyage since the shuttle Columbia exploded two and a half years ago. All seven astronauts on board were killed. Joining is now is veteran shuttle astronaut Frederick Gregory. He has flown three shuttle missions. Today he serves as acting chief operating officer at NASA. Gregory is the first African-American to hold that job.

Mr. Gregory, thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate it.

Mr. FREDERICK GREGORY (Acting Chief Operating Officer, NASA): Thanks, Ed.

GORDON: Let me ask you before we get into the details of the mission itself, you're a veteran of space flight. What are astronauts thinking at this point in time?

Mr. GREGORY: Well, you know what? At this time, with one day to go, you've got family down here. You're making certain that they are comfortable. At the same time, you're getting a little anxious about the flight. But I think other than that, I think it's a very, very exciting time, and I think that's the feeling that I had at--one day before launch.

GORDON: Talk to me, if you will, about the mission of this particular launch and what the Discovery will hope to do and bring back by means of information.

Mr. GREGORY: There is some logistics of carrying some support up to the International Space Station. But this is really a demonstration flight. It's not primarily to support the station but to demonstrate the shuttle's ability to safely perform and support the station in the future.

GORDON: Mr. Gregory, I'm in my mid-40s and I can recall all of the hopes and wants of the space program when I was in elementary school and junior high school and what was talked about, what were the possibilities of space. As you look at the program and where we are today, are you satisfied with where we sit?

Mr. GREGORY: A couple of years ago, and I think even earlier than that, we realized that we could not just continue this journey around the Earth, and so a return to the moon and then follow on to Mars and beyond is the appropriate thing to do, and I think it will begin a new era to move upward and outward.

GORDON: Let me ask you, before we let you go, on a personal side, you sit in a position that is unique and, some would say, historic now that you are the first African-American to sit in that position. As you look at all of what you've attempted to do, reforms and reconfigurations of management teams and the like, how much can you say that this is a field where African-Americans and others should, indeed, look to that historically perhaps they have not?

Mr. GREGORY: You know, as you look at the history of the United States, you see that there is progress, and when I had the privilege of flying in space, all of my energies and focus was at the--where I was born in Washington, DC. But very soon after that, you began to realize that you are not a citizen of a city, but a citizen of the world, and I've had the privilege of traveling around the world and talking to folks who are not of culture, not of our racial--and I found that these folks are just as interested as we are in making major contributions. So I see a great future. I think we've made great steps in the past, but I think that the future will open this up, and more and more folks will understand and recognize how important it is.

GORDON: Well, Frederick Gregory, we know it's a busy time. We thank you again for taking time out with us today, and good luck with everything.

Mr. GREGORY: Thanks, Ed. I appreciate it.

GORDON: Frederick Gregory is the acting chief operating officer at NASA.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ed Gordon
Hard hitting, intelligent, honest, and no-nonsense describe Ed Gordon's style and approach to reporting that have made the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster one of the most respected journalists in the business today. Known for his informative on-air interaction with newsmakers, from world leaders to celebrities, the name Ed Gordon has become synonymous with the "big" interview.