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Moonwalk Memories | Astronaut says 'space race' would be good for country
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Homepage for One Small Step. One Giant Leap. Man's first moonwalk, 40 years later

Not many people can say they accomplished the life goals they set for themselves as 8-year-olds.

But astronaut John Casper did just that.

"I wanted to fly airplanes and I wanted to go to space," Casper said.

Casper, an Atlanta native who considers Gainesville home, served as a pilot during the Vietnam War and flew four space shuttle missions in the early 1990s.

Though he always had an interest in space, he started his career as a pilot.

At the moment when all of America was focused on the moon in the summer of 1969, Casper was absent.

"During the lunar landing in July 1969, I was a fighter pilot in Vietnam flying combat missions," Casper said. "We had a little radio in the airplane that we used for navigation but you could also pick up the radio stations.

As I was flying the combat mission, the narrator was talking about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon. I thought ‘Wow, that is great. I would really like to do that.'"

Not seeing the lunar landing didn't make it any less meaningful to Casper.

"It was a great inspiration to me," he said. "It's an incredible event and just a great testament to the ingenuity of human kind."

Years later, Casper joined NASA and helped lay the foundations for the international space station.
"Being a pilot it was a natural kind of transition," Casper said.

But Casper said achieving his second goal of going to space was no easy task.

"I didn't make it the first time," Casper said.
But he didn't give up and worked until he was accepted into the program.

"Perseverance has really made a difference in my life," Casper said.

Casper went on to fly four space shuttle missions, "doing a lot of basic research and basic technology demonstrations, paving the way for the space station and beyond."

Casper said he conducted scientific experiments, technology demonstrations and worked with a national communications satellite during his time in space.

"I also did a space walk on my second mission," Casper said.

These days, Casper is still living in Houston and working on the space shuttle program from behind the scenes, planning launches and maintenance.

"Its the planning, the scheduling the whole bit," Casper said. "We have eight more flights to fly before we retire the shuttle in 2010."

Casper said the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing reminds him of the importance of moving forward with space exploration.

"I guess there's a little bit disappointment that we haven't gone farther, that we we're not back to the moon," Casper said. "It's been 40 years and we went to the moon and we didn't keep going with that idea, with that goal."

Casper fears that without more national support for the space exploration, other countries will soon outshine America in space exploration.

China and India both have aggressive space programs and he worries that both countries may beat America back to the moon and eventually to Mars.

"There's no space race like there was back in the '60s," Casper said. "Lets get a strong long-term space exploration program going. ... We need more of that partially as an inspiration for our kids."