The following is an edited transcript of the chat conducted on December 3 with Alan Ladwig of NASA.
Chat Participant: Has NASA determined what caused the alarm to sound aboard Endeavour this morning, forcing the first ISS mission to be postponed?
Alan Ladwig: There was going to be a press conference, but I have not had a chance to go hear what the problem was. They did determine that it was not a real problem, but by the time they figured that out, they had missed the launch window.
Chat Participant: With all the turmoil in the Russian economy, do you believe the Russian Space Agency will ever be a premier leader in space ever again?
Alan Ladwig: The Russian capabilities... have been diminished by their economic problems. However, when they have money, they produce superior hardware. I think it will take some time before their economy will be strong enough to support the world-class capability that they had during the Cold War.
Chat Participant: Will NASA continue to develop joint projects with the Russians?
Alan Ladwig: Yes. In addition to the ISS, Russian scientists and engineers are cooperating on robotic missions to Mars, and cooperative aeronautics and aviation projects.
Chat Participant: What percentage of the completed ISS will be American "modules"?
Alan Ladwig: There's going be the U.S. Lab, where the science is done, and then there is the habitation module - living, sleeping and eating area. And then there are several nodes and we provide most of the solar panels.
Chat Participant: Why does it cost so much to delay a launch for a day?
Alan Ladwig: Because they have to drain all the fuel, because workers have to be put on overtime or another shift has to come in, and some experiments may have to be removed, then replaced tomorrow. It's primarily cost due to personnel. In the future we hope to transition to a totally reusable launch system where the impact of a delay wouldn't be so costly.
Chat Participant: What is NASA's point of view on the intention of Russia to keep MIR alive?
Alan Ladwig: We have requested that they allow MIR to have a controlled re-entry and to direct their limited resources to the ISS.
Chat Participant: Is ISS a stepping stone for a permanent base on the moon?
Alan Ladwig: ISS is a stepping stone for future human exploration, be it the Moon, Mars, asteroids, etc. The exact destination goal beyond space station has yet to be determined.
Chat Participant: With the advance of relative peace throughout the world, why is there no one World Space Program Agency, rather than these fragmented individual ones?
Alan Ladwig: The notion of an international space program has been discussed for many years. There are some things that a country wants to excel in on its own the are other activities were it makes more sense to cooperate. The nature of future cooperation to a large part is getting started with ISS. And if that is successful future international programs are likely. I believe we are a long way from having an international space organization. Just look at the controversy over America's participation with the United Nations on other issues.
Chat Participant: What is NASA doing to help with Mir, and are you using the mistakes as learning tools for our future in space?
Alan Ladwig: The purpose of adding shuttle-to-Mir missions to the program, which did increase the overall cost of the space station, was done to understand more about risk, to gain experience in working with the Russians, and to conduct early science experiments so that we would be more efficient on ISS science experiments. Because of some of the things that occurred on Mir such as the fire and the accident were a unmanned vehicle crashed into the exterior of Mir. We certainly learned more about risk than we had imagined. All that information is being applied as we develop and assemble the Space Station.
Chat Participant: I've heard of a system called ICM can you tell me how this is involved with the space station?
Alan Ladwig: Give me a minute... Do you know what that acronym is? Interim Control Module - that is part of our contingency plan. If the Russians are not able to complete the service module, which is the third element to be launched (next year), then we would implement deployment of the ICM.
Chat Participant: How confident is NASA that Russian can live up to it's responsibilities in a timely fashion?
Alan Ladwig: We've had experts outside of NASA go to Russia to evaluate the situation. We have NASA employees on the scene in Russia and we have established a series of milestones and expectations to ensure that Russia can achieve its commitments. Much of this will be dependent on their success in stabilizing their economy.
Chat Participant: Is there any chance that other countries will join the ISS?
Alan Ladwig: Possibly. Brazil recently came on board, which makes now 16 countries total. And there are indications that additional countries are interested but those are still in the discussion stage.
Chat Participant: I don't know if this was asked already, but what about naming the ISS? What's the concrete plan to select a name?
Alan Ladwig: That's proven to be a more difficult activity than it should have been. NASA had held a contest for Space workers to rename the ISS. Four or five finalist names were selected and then it was determined through the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House just to retain the name International Space Station. If that ever changes, the name has to be approved by all 16 partners. So you can imagine how complex an easy task might be.
Chat Participant: Mr. Ladwig, What can you tell us about the future of manned exploration of Mars. What's planned, when, and how will this be accomplished? Thank you!
Alan Ladwig: We have a modest effort underway to develop a sample human Mars mission. However until we show significant success in assembling the ISS - keeping it on schedule, keeping it within budget - we are not being encouraged by either Congress or the Office of Management and Budget to spend too many resources on humans-to-Mars planning. Humans-to-Mars remains a part of NASA's long-term vision and we believe we are not yet ready to request approval for such a mission.
Chat Participant: Alan, is there any proof of Alien life having visited us, and do you have any personal beliefs on Alien life?
Alan Ladwig: I personally believe that in a universe of billions of galaxies and zillions of stars it would seem reasonable that life in some form exists elsewhere. I have no evidence, no compelling evidence, that we have been visited by aliens. And NASA would have no purpose to cover such a thing up because one of our goals is to see if life exists elsewhere in the Universe. If we could have concrete proof of an alien maybe our budget would start going up instead of down. If you've seen one please give them my phone number.
Chat Participant: What is the status of X-40 technology demonstration project?
Alan Ladwig: I'm sorry, I am not familiar with that. I thought we were up to X-36. I am just not familiar with X-40 - sorry. I am requesting some info on that while we speak - I may have an answer for you in a minute... give me a moment.. I am sending email down to the office... OK - may take a few minutes...
Chat Participant: What kind of propulsion would we see to get to Mars? Liquid fuel, or is there something better on the horizon
Alan Ladwig: Currently I believe the example program is looking at chemical propulsion however, I am sure we are doing some work to investigate nuclear propulsion and perhaps other advanced concepts. A breakthrough in rocket technology would do a great deal to reduce the travel time to Mars - currently 8 months one way.
Chat Participant:Do you believe that a high-set goal, like going to the moon again, could invigorate the budgets of NASA's less publicly attractive (to the layman) projects, furthering hard science research while attracting attention to more understandable and 'entertaining' aspects of space flight?
Alan Ladwig: Very good question. NASA recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. We were formed as an instrument of the Cold War. The Apollo program was such a big success because it had three factors in alignment; a political imperative (what can we do to beat the Soviets in space), a science and technical response (send a man to the moon), and National spirit (we didn't want to be beaten by the 'Commies'). We have not had those three factors in alignment since the Apollo program. To achieve any kind of commitment for a major space initiative I believe we have to have those factors aligned again, plus a fourth one is now in play - and that is National economic impact. So since we are moving from the Cold War towards the new millennium the entire rationale for the space program has changed. I believe that we may want to look at an incremental strategy as opposed to seeking a single destination goal.
Chat Participant: Is the shuttle going to be replaced with a more modern craft?
Alan Ladwig: We are conducting research on a reusable launch vehicle system called the X-33 that's a single stage to orbit system. It is designed with a goal to reduce launch costs from the current $8000 per pound with the shuttle to $1000 per pound with a fully reusable system and eventually get that to $100 per pound. The X-33 will have a flight test towards the end of 1999 and if the complete set of tests are successful. And if the contractor - Lockheed Martin - can identify a launch market outside of NASA they intend to expand the X-33 project into an operational vehicle called Venturestar, of which NASA would be just one customer. In the meantime, there are several other private companies investing their own funds towards reusable launch vehicle designs. Several of these plan to conduct test flights next year as well.
Chat Participant: Are there any plans to privatize NASA and make it a for-profit corporation?
Alan Ladwig: We are currently privatizing (plan to privatize) many of our operational activities. This includes the Space Shuttle, our Communications Space Operations Network, and eventually the Space Station. We are also looking for innovative ways to commercialize several systems and services on the station. The complete commercialization of NASA is intriguing. It might enable a more stable budget environment and lead to more commercial practices, but it shouldn't compete with current commercial companies. As part of my own planning activities I am interested in developing a scenario that would take NASA into a quasi-private-government system, such as the Fanny-Mae Corporation. Which is a quasi-governmental organization engaged in the home mortgage business.
Chat Participant: What is your best guess about the year when humans will walk on Mars? Will it be in your lifetime?
Alan Ladwig: It will and I would think it is conceivable to do so before 2025.
CNN Moderator: Alan - Do you have any closing remarks?
Alan Ladwig:I'd like to thank everyone for their participation today. If anyone would like to share their thoughts on the space program I encourage them to contact me at NASA headquarters and I'd like to remind everyone that NASA's budget is less that one percent of a 1.7 trillion dollar Federal budget. During the Apollo program NASA's budget was 4 percent of the Federal budget. I believe we are providing a wider range of knowledge and services with a reduced budget. And if we are able to have budget stability I believe the public can look forward to even greater return than we provided during our first 40 years. The Office of the Administrator, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC 20546. Contact me there. Thanks again.
CNN Moderator: Thank you Mr Ladwig.
CNN Moderator: Thanks to all for joining us today. Please point your browser to http://cnn.com/discussion/ for a listing of all of CNN's chat events.
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