FULL EPISODE: 7/18/21 NASA Chief Bill Nelson and Fmr. NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison on the billionaire space race

Published: Jul. 17, 2021 at 10:25 PM EDT
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Washington, D.C. – Greta Van Susteren interviewed NASA Administrator and former U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, and Dr. Mae Jemison, a former NASA astronaut and the first woman of color to go to space, for “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” airing Sunday, July 18, 2021. The episode will also feature a discussion with WAFF-TV (Huntsville, Ala.) anchor Liz Hurley about the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Blue Origin’s upcoming sub-orbital spaceflight with Jeff Bezos.

Bill Nelson, a former U.S. senator from Florida who flew to space in 1986 as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia, said of Richard Branson’s and Jeff Bezos’ suborbital missions: “I think the competition is great. I think what they are accomplishing is great.” On whether the altitude of the flights could be described as space, Nelson said: “Sure, but the real deal of going in space is to go in orbit.” He also said: " Elon has done it and he’s done it very well.”

When asked about China’s space program, Nelson said: “They say they want international cooperation, but when it comes to really opening up, being transparent, then they draw the line.” And on climate change, the former senator told Van Susteren that the issue “is front and center as an agenda item for NASA.”

Former astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison also weighed in on the so-called billionaire space race, telling Van Susteren: “It can be helpful, and it can be interesting. I think what we have to deal with is a balance, a balance of things.” Jemison added: “The balance is making sure that we don’t put all of our eggs in the private basket, because the public basket has done remarkable things, and has more remarkable work to do.”

When asked if anyone can claim ownership in space, Jemison said: “Right now, I don’t believe the moon should be owned by anyone, which is one of the dangers that we have when we’re starting to look at this … Sometimes our technology capabilities go further ahead than we’re willing to go in terms of understanding this collective responsibility.”

Jemison also told Van Susteren she’d go back to space “in a heartbeat,” and volunteered for future missions. “I raise my hand for the moon. I raise my hand for Mars,” said the former astronaut.

Bill Nelson and Dr. Mae Jemison interview excerpts are below.

Bill Nelson Highlights

On the billionaire space race

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

I think the competition is great. I think what they are accomplishing is great.

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

Branson ... just to the edge of space, and down, and so too is the Jeff Bezos mission. Up to the edge of space and then down. But the other billionaire, Elon, he’s gone into orbit, and that’s when you’ve really got to have all your Ps and Qs in order. Otherwise, it’s not going to be a good day, but Elon has done it and he’s done it very well.

Greta Van Susteren

Jeff Bezos is going to 62 miles up, and of course Branson to 50 miles. Everyone’s arguing where space begins. Some people say it’s at 50 miles and then the Kármán line says it’s at 62 miles. Can we just agree that they’ve both gone to space, or is this line important?

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

Sure, but the real deal of going in space is to go in orbit. There you’ve got to spend enough energy to get to orbital velocity which is 25 times the speed of sound, which is about 17,500 miles an hour, and that then keeps you revolving around the Earth. You’re going fast enough so that gravity doesn’t pull you back, and you’re not going too fast so that you go on out into space.

On the contributions of the civilian spaceflight companies

Greta Van Susteren

I imagine that NASA could always use more money, but do you welcome these billionaires joining in, and are they going to be part of the research, not just sort of the thrill of the tourism and the excitement of being able to go into outer space? Do you expect them to be partners in research?

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

They already have. For example, look at Elon Musk with SpaceX. Look what they’ve accomplished within a short period of time, and being able to put together spacecraft and rockets that, first of all, reduce the cost of going to space because they reuse the first stages of the rockets, and secondly have been tremendously successful, and thirdly that have been safe. And so, SpaceX is delivering astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station on a regular basis, and that’s soon to be joined by the spacecraft Starliner, which is Boeing, their spacecraft is going to be tested again in an uncrewed flight in preparation at the end of the year for their first crewed flight to the International Space Station.

On who licenses trips to space

Greta Van Susteren

What are the mechanics of the regulatory responsibilities, like for these billionaires who are going up, do they have to work and get permission from the U.S. government? Do you notify China and Russia who have space programs? What are the mechanics of this?

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

The FAA will license trips to and from space. Now, when it comes to humans going into orbit then of course NASA is all over this to make sure that it’s going to be safe enough. That’s why as we speak we are working with the Boeing company as they will launch humans to and from the International Space Station.

On China’s space program

Greta Van Susteren

China has a very aggressive space program … they’ve just struck a deal recently with Russia that I don’t know if we’re a part of, or we’re going to be part of it, but we seem to cooperate in space, but down here on planet Earth, we seem to be doing a lot of saber-rattling, and we’re suspicious of each other.

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

Isn’t that interesting? If you take the Soviet Union, now Russia, for example: a lot of friction down on terra firma between our two governments, but yet we cooperate in space. Not so with China. China has been very secretive about their so-called civilian space program, which really is one and the same with their military space program.

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

They say they want international cooperation, but when it comes to really opening up, being transparent, then they draw the line.

On whether the U.S. is going back to the moon

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

We’re going back. As a matter of fact, the first Americans will go back in the vicinity of the Moon in two years, in 2023. That will circumnavigate the moon and come back and land safely, and then we will go and we will transfer out of lunar orbit from our spacecraft, the Orion spacecraft, into a lunar lander and it will go down to the surface. They’ll conduct their activities, and then we’re going to have landing after landing, the beginning of a habitable module, all of this in preparation for when we go to Mars.

On climate change

Greta Van Susteren

I read recently that the orbit of the Moon is getting a little wobbly and we think it’s going to have an environmental impact and NASA is now very active in looking at environmental issues and climate change. What do you intend to do?

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

Climate change is front and center as an agenda item for NASA, and what is already happening of course we know that the Earth is heating up, and why is it heating up? Because we’re abusing it.

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

By the way, Greta, 36 years ago when I flew, it’s amazing what you can see out the window of a spacecraft just with your naked eye. I could see coming across Brazil I could see the destruction of the rainforest by seeing the color contrast in the upper Amazon region

Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

I could see how we were messing it up back then, and we’re still continuing to do that, and if we want to save our planet we’re going to have to reverse this.

Dr. Mae Jemison Highlights

On the billionaire space race

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

It can be helpful, and it can be interesting. I think what we have to deal with is a balance, a balance of things.

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

So the balance is understanding that a lot of the really cool things that we use for space today came from people who did not have hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to go into space.

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

So for example, remote sensing to identify minerals to help us understand diseases and things like that. Really exotic things, whether we talk about communications. That happened based on a lot of the taxpayer money, the research that we did.

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

The difference now is that yes, there may be access to space in a different way. Yet the question we have to ask is: Who gets to be the gatekeeper? Is a gatekeeper something that says you have to pay millions of dollars to go, or hundreds of thousands of dollars to go? Or can you, because of what you could contribute academically, research-wise, can that get you there?

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

I went up with NASA. My background helped me go. Women, people of color have gone up with NASA based on the work and the research that they could do. How do we keep that happening? And not only that, how do we look at who’s in the control room, and who’s designing the missions, how that is applied? I think there’s remarkable engineering that has happened with SpaceX, with Blue Origin, with Virgin Galactic.

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

But it’s built on a lot of the work that has been done before to get us to lower orbit. So the balance is making sure that we don’t put all of our eggs in the private basket, because the public basket has done remarkable things, and has more remarkable work to do.

On who “owns” space and the moon

Greta Van Susteren

Your thoughts about colonizing the moon? What if it’s done by Branson, Bezos, or Elon Musk?

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

Well, here’s the thing. We have to understand who owns what resources. Right now, I don’t believe the moon should be owned by anyone, which is one of the dangers that we have when we’re starting to look at this. Have our regulations, have our laws, have our agreements caught up with where we are?

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

Sometimes our technology capabilities go further ahead than we’re willing to go in terms of understanding this collective responsibility. Even when we look at what’s happening overhead in space. So, people talk about all the satellites that are going to be launched. Who gets to say, “Do you get to have your satellite over my space, over my plot of land?”

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

There are a lot of issues that we have to really work out, and we need to put time in them. So many times, people look at space exploration is purely a technological engineering challenge. But I think that there’s also the challenge of, “What do we use it for? Who owns it? Is it a resource for everyone here on earth?” I think it is.

On space tourism

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

I think it’s fine. I should tell you that I would have gone to space if I had been picked up in a cornfield by ET. I wanted to go into space, so I understand that. And again, having people with access and to be able to see things, hopefully it increases our understanding that we’re earthlings. It’s an adrenaline rush.

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

But I don’t think you actually have to go into space to feel that connectedness to the universe. When I was in space looking out at the stars, I felt that connection. But when I’m down here on Earth looking up, I feel that connection. And so, I think tourism is great. I think that the more people have access, the more they think it’s part of their lives, there are two things that can happen. We can either think that, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” and get careless, and not continue to explore and push the envelope.

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

Or we can understand and say, “More people could get involved.” It’s going to be a while before we get tickets down to the price that you can plan it like your trip to visit your parents. It’s going to be a while before it gets to that point. The access, the reusability, the engineering that’s pushed is really important.

On why she wanted to be an astronaut

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

I have a real simple answer for that: I wanted to go into space. I mean, that’s it. So I figured that was the best way to do it. Since I was a little girl, I was just very excited about exploration. Exploration, whether it was traveling to other countries, or going into space.

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

And space was that pinnacle that pitted your physicality, your intellect, and all of those pieces. I just wanted to go into space, and I figured, let me be an astronaut.

On whether she’s like to go back to space

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

I raise my hand for the moon. I raise my hand for Mars.

Greta Van Susteren

You want to go to the moon?

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

In a heartbeat.

Greta Van Susteren

How about Mars?

Dr. Mae Jemison, Former NASA Astronaut

In a heartbeat.

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About Greta Van Susteren:

Greta Van Susteren is the Chief Political Analyst for Gray Media and host of Full Court Press. Ms. Van Susteren is a veteran of Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and CNN. Her prime-time Fox News Channel Show, “On the Record,” was number 1 in its time slot for 14 1⁄2 years. Before joining Fox News, she hosted CNN’s prime-time news and analysis program, “The Point with Greta Van Susteren,” and co-hosted the network’s daily legal analysis show, “Burden of Proof.” Her legal analysis for CNN’s coverage of Election 2000 earned her the American Bar Association’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Journalism. She continues to host the weekly 30-minute program “Plugged In with Greta Van Susteren” on Voice of America, which broadcasts exclusively outside of the United States.

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