Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
NASA's astronaut program receives record number of applications ahead of Mars mission -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: NASA is undergoing a revival with a record 18,000 people putting their hands up to be part of the 2017 astronaut intake. Fewer than 20 will make the cut though. A veteran astronaut is behind the push to get a new generation excited about space travel, as North America correspondent Stephanie March reports.

STEPHANIE MARCH, REPORTER: Only a handful of humans, fewer than 550, have seen first-hand this incredible view of the planet we call home.

CHARLES BOLDEN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: And you look out there and there was nothing but blackness and there's this thing that we call Earth. And there was this thin blue line and then you say, "Holy gee, that's why I live. That's why I'm alive."

STEPHANIE MARCH: Charles Bolden first went into space three decades ago. He went to orbit four times in the 1980s and '90s. Back then, space was a big deal.

CHARLES BOLDEN: I did not go to a school as an astronaut and ask kids to raise their hand if they wanted to go to space and not have every hand in the class go up. When I came back as the NASA administrator, for some reason, interest had sort of waned.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Taking over as the head of NASA in 2009, he made it his mission to re-energise that interest by reaching out to Americans and sharing the agency's successes.

CHARLES BOLDEN: Curiosity on Mars, new horizons getting to Pluto, finding and being in close contact with asteroids and then The Martian. So that - I think that has brought on a resurgence in interest.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Help from Hollywood isn't a new thing for NASA, but last year's release of the blockbuster film The Martian, where Matt Damon's character gets stranded on Mars, gave NASA unprecedented publicity for its next goal: getting humans to the Red Planet.

CHARLES BOLDEN: Almost all of it is real and it's based on fact.

STEPHANIE MARCH: So one day we could have space potatoes grown on Mars?

CHARLES BOLDEN: One day we will have potatoes grown on Mars.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Last year, researchers on the International Space Station grew lettuce in space for the first time. Whether it's the prospect of delicious Martian vegetables or one of the other wonders of space exploration, more people want to go there than ever before.

ROB WEBB, ASTRONAUT APPLICANT: I applied to be an astronaut and this is actually the second time that I've applied to be an astronaut because I really want to go to space.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Pennsylvania physics teacher Rob Webb is one of the 18,000 people who applied this year to NASA's astronaut program.

ROB WEBB: I want to have the experience and be able to impart that to students who aren't able to go up there.

STEPHANIE MARCH: Rob Webb knows it's a long shot. He has a 0.08 per cent chance of being one of the dozen or so people selected. But if successful, the pay-off would be incredible.

ROB WEBB: I love taking pictures through my telescope and with my camera of the night sky. I think my - my favourite thing to do would probably be to be looking out the Cupola of the International Space Station and taking pictures. That to me is amazing.

STEPHANIE MARCH: A lot lies ahead for future generations of astronauts. NASA plans to send them back to the Moon, where the agency hasn't been since 1972. They'll be part of the 21st Century space race, flying in crafts built by commercial ventures like SpaceX and Sierra Nevada.

CHARLES BOLDEN: There is no competition between NASA and commercial space. There is competition and it is brutal competition, but it's between the commercial space companies, everybody wanting to be the company that gets there first, wherever there happens to be.

STEPHANIE MARCH: And eventually, possibly by 2035, these new astronauts will head to Mars.

CHARLES BOLDEN: For the first time we see a consensus in all corners of the globe, you know, both sides of the aisle in the Congress that Mars is - should be the - you know, the destination for - immediate destination for humanity and we should do it with all deliberate speed.

STEPHANIE MARCH: But it won't be cheap or easy. Every year the agency has to argue its case for funding.

ROGER LAUNIUS, FMR NASA CHIEF HISTORIAN: Money from Congress has always been a difficult thing when it's 100 per cent discretionary and it is. We don't have to explore space. There's no requirement that we do that. It's not a part of the Constitution, it's not a part of a whole number of other things. But, should we do it? I absolutely believe we should.

STEPHANIE MARCH: NASA's currently trying to convince partner nations to extend the life of the International Space Station to 2024 so astronauts have a place to continue research in low-Earth orbit. It costs the agency about $3 billion a year to operate.

A political appointee, Charles Bolden will finish up his term when President Barack Obama leaves office at the end of this year. And while he doesn't want to talk about what legacy he'll leave, he remains an eternal optimist.

CHARLES BOLDEN: The world is incredible for my granddaughters and the young people that we're about to select in the 2017 astronaut class. But again, it's a choice that we have to make and so I consider my job to be go out and tell them the good side of the choice.

LEIGH SALES: Stephanie March reporting from Washington.