U of A sees big future in space exploration

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- The final space shuttle mission is well underway now. Atlantis is circling the earth. Now, as the space shuttle program winds down, the U of A looking to take a lead role in the future of space exploration.

The significance of Friday's final space shuttle launch is tough to grasp.

Almost a million people watched Atlantis and its four astronauts make history.

"With today's final launch we begin the next chapter in our nations extraordinary story of exploration,"

That next chapter in our nation's story of space exploration in many ways starts in Tucson, at the U of A.   Although most are saddened that astronauts won't be traveling into space in the near future, in Tucson there is excitement about the future.

"We'll be launching a spacecraft in 2016."

It's an unmanned mission, but one with lots of promise. OSIRIS-REx is the U of A's next big step.

A robotic mission to an asteroid that will bring samples, and hopefully more answers, back to earth.

"The origin of life and the creation of the early solar system."

The focus now shifts beyond earth's orbit to planets and deep space.  Somewhere NASA's beloved shuttle could not venture.

"The fact is, the President has laid out an ambitious agenda and an ambitious vision for human space flight that will take American astronauts beyond where we've been ever before.  With the ultimate goal being a human mission to Mars."

The list of things left to discover is long.

"I still think there will be a role for astronauts, whether its the International Space Station or beyond, going to an asteroid one day."

And the U of A's OSIRIS-REx mission will play a role in the president's ambitious space agenda.

"The president has talked about wanting to send humans to asteroids this fits in with that plan."

The shuttle program may be history, but some are anxious to see what the future holds.

"It's the end of an era but for those of us involved in the OSIRIS-REx mission we're excite."

OSIRIS-REx is an $800 million mission, but is expected to pump in lots of jobs and money into the local economy.