DALLAS -- The American space agency will emerge stronger from Tuesday's shuttle Challenger explosion, and exploration of space will continue, two former astronauts said.
News of the explosion 'felt like a hit in the gut,' Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, said in a telephone interview. 'I still feel it in my stomach.'
Bean and former astronaut Deke Slayton said the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will learn from the explosion and eventually build a better shuttle.
'I don't think this will deter anybody,' said Bean, who retired in 1981. 'Astronauts with the program now are shocked and saddened, but I am sure they are going to put their minds to trying to find out what happened and put their minds back to the exploration of space.'
'I think you need to evaluate the problem and go fix it,' said Slayton who flew on the joint Apollo-Soyuz flight in July 1975 and now manages a private space company in Houston. 'If you say we should evaluate whether we continue flying in space, that's like saying you shouldn't get in your car because there was an accident.
'If everybody quit because we failed, we would still be back there chipping bones with stone axes,' he said.
Bean, who walked on the moon in November 1969 as a member of Apollo 12 and commanded a 59-day Skylab flight in 1973, said he helped train the crew of the ill-fated shuttle.
'I came to know (shuttle commander) Dick Scobee and all these others,' Bean said. 'They are good friends. I ran into Judy Resnik about six months ago. It seems impossible that nobody is going to see them any more. It just seems impossible.'
'There is a saying in the Alamo,' he said. 'It says, 'Be silent, friend, here heroes died to blaze a trail for other men.' That is what happened here. Nothing can be done now but to figure out how to try to correct it and go on.'
Bean said that as with the fire that killed three Apollo astronauts during a simulated launch Jan. 27, 1967, the space program will continue and grow stronger.
'I remember the fire in the Apollo held us up for about a year, and we came out with a better spaceship,' Bean said. 'We will come out of this with some lessons learned.'
Slayton, who runs Space Services, a satellite launching company, said accidents are part of the business of space exploration.
'I've seen quite a few accidents before,' Slayton said. 'You never enjoy it. But I guess that is the price you pay for the ticket. Nobody ever said there was going to be free rides.
'Hopefully they will sort out the cause real fast and go on with the progam.'