NASA's New Spaceship Builder Has Sights on the Moon, Mars

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By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 19, 2005

The idea for what is known as the "Scotty Rocket," came to Scott J. Horowitz and several fellow astronauts during brainstorming sessions after space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas in 2003.

"The idea was 'safe, simple and soon,' " Horowitz said. Build the new rocket "in line," with the spacecraft on top so debris won't hit it during launch. Use shuttle technology whenever possible because it's already certified to carry humans. And build it with shuttle engineers -- to get it done quickly.

"Quite frankly, people weren't very interested," Horowitz said.

Things have changed.

Today, Horowitz, 48, is NASA's associate administrator for explorations systems, chosen by agency Administrator Michael D. Griffin to build a spaceship that fulfills President Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration" to send humans back to the moon by 2018 and eventually send them on to Mars.

The cornerstone of the program is a versatile "crew exploration vehicle" capable of carrying up to six astronauts on long trips. It will be put into space by a new "shuttle-derived" launcher -- a version of the Scotty Rocket.

Bush wants to finish the crew exploration vehicle by 2014, but Congress wants it by the time the shuttle is retired in 2010, so there will be a seamless transition to the new hardware. Griffin has set a target of 2012, and Horowitz has promised "to make the gap as small as possible."

If effort and preparation are all that are required, he should be able to deliver because "I'm a focus kind of guy."

This became obvious at an early age. Horowitz said he first dreamed of becoming an astronaut in sixth grade when he saw men walking on the moon. In high school in Southern California, he sent away for an astronaut application.

NASA wanted a bachelor's degree in engineering, and a doctorate was even better, he noted. NASA liked pilots, but test pilots were even better: "So I said, 'Okay,' " Horowitz recalled during a recent interview in his NASA headquarters office. "I decided that I would just fill in all the squares."

And he did. He graduated from California State University at Northridge in 1978 and earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech in 1982. Then he went to an Air Force recruiter, making sure to apply before he turned 24 so he would still be eligible for flight school.

" 'You have all these engineering degrees -- you want to be an engineer,' the recruiter said," Horowitz remembered. " 'No, I want to be a pilot,' I said. 'There are no pilot spots,' the recruiter said. Well, that wasn't in my plan."


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