Apr 12, 2011 11:28 PM by Jeannette Hynes
Three decades ago, the Space Shuttle Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center for the very first time. Since then, shuttles have flown more than 100 missions.
"It's a dream, and for me it's been a dream come true," remarks Richard Truly, NASA astronaut and former space shuttle commander.
Only two space shuttle flights remain. Then the shuttle program will come to an end.
"It's bittersweet," reflects Rick Hauck, NASA astronaut and former space shuttle commander.
While some see these final flights as the end of an era, the former shuttle commanders at the National Space Symposium see it as a beginning.
"I think we're going to see a resurgence in interest when the shock hits us that the space shuttle program is over," explains Eileen Collins, NASA astronaut and former space shuttle commander.
What that interest will produce may be in the hands of the exhibitors at the symposium, going on this week at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
"We all recognize that at some point we have to phase into another type of vehicle. What's sad is we don't know what that vehicle is now and we're depending upon the Russians to carry us to the space station and back," says Hauck.
Even though what's next is uncertain, the commanders say their shuttle and space experiences shaped their lives.
"It's a great gift," says Hauck.