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DOD's top space official committed to space discovery

WASHINGTON -- Just days after Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart in the skies over Texas, the Department of Defense's executive agent for space said the nation's program would go on.

"I think we're all (still) reeling and will be for some time," said Peter B. Teets, undersecretary of the Air Force and the chief of the National Reconnaissance Office.

According to Teets, the Columbia disaster will force people to alter the way they think about the space program.

"I think everyone recognizes that, essentially, it's a controlled explosion that creates the energy to get you into orbit ... but they've forgotten just what a significant event re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere really is," he said.

"There's a huge amount of energy that has to be taken out of the vehicle as it re-enters the atmosphere - it's taken out by transferring energy to heat," he said.

Once the root cause of the accident is determined, Teets said, the nation's space agency leaders have to reassess how they operate in space.

Among the considerations, the nation's space leaders will have to face is how to resupply the international space station, and where the manned space program goes from here.

"I'm one who believes it's important for us to have fully reusable launch systems that will be the for-sure way we provide assured access to space," he said. "Perhaps, by working together, we can leverage the same kinds of technology that will allow us to get more operationally responsive systems."

According to the undersecretary, shared technologies, such as a common propulsion system and lightweight structure, could lead to the next generation of manned spacecraft, the space plane.

"The bottom line is that we need to redouble our efforts to make sure we have a vigorous and successful national security space program."

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