With the touchdown of space shuttle Atlantis, it's the end of an era for NASA.  As the shuttle program draws to a close, at least one astronaut says we've accomplished much to be proud of and there's plenty of hope for the future.

Between lunar orbit and the silver screen, you've probably seen Fred Haise.  The 78 year old was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 13, the near-tragic NASA mission turned Hollywood thriller.  Haise says Bill Paxton's performance of his character and the movie itself both got his seal of approval. "Uhh, I liked it!  I wish they had not exaggerated my upset stomach and throw-up.  Other than that!  That was a Hollywood throw-up!"

Apollo 13 was an invaluable test mission for NASA.  In many ways, the Apollo program itself was one great experiment.  Haise says aside from landing on the moon and the technological advancements, the greatest accomplishment, "was the fact of taking on a challenge that proved that we as a nation, if we set our heart into it and backed it properly, could be done.  It seemed at the time like a mission impossible."

Of course, work didn't stop after Apollo.  Haise was a test pilot in the shuttle program and helped develop the International Space Station.  With space shuttle Atlantis back on solid ground, New Orleans can be proud to have had Tulane grad Doug Hurley pilot the final mission.  Although the shuttle program lacked the world-changing impact of a lunar landing, Haise says it taught us self-reliance.  "If we're really going to go far in space and I'm talking about eventually to another star system, it's going to be a very big vehicle, virtually a small earth to make that trip."

The Orion spacecraft, which could take people to an asteroid or even mars, is being built at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.  However, at this point, there's no planned program or funding to back it up.  That's why Haise is investing in a different way.  He's helping design the massive Infinity Center at Stennis.  When finished, it will host 100,000 students each year.  2/3's of those will come from Louisiana schools.

"To me it’s a way of inspiring some of these students to become engineers and scientists and be ready to serve in a similar way that I did in a space program as it evolves downstream."

Haise has big ideas for our future in space, hoping one day the entire human race will have a chance to see earth as he did.  "We're the first creatures that could do it.  We could plant our race elsewhere."

As this chapter closes in space exploration…the sky's the limit for the future.