BERLIN, July 8 (UPI) -- A former German astronaut says the end of the space shuttle program is just a "bottleneck" and that the future of space exploration is bright.
Thomas Reiter, now an official with the European Space Agency, cited the emergence of China and India as space powers as proof space exploration will continue.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Reiter, now the head of the ESA's Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations, said the loss of the space shuttles' cargo capacity would mean some changes in supplying the International Space Station.
"For scientific samples that are processed on board the ISS, this reduction in carrying capacity is obviously a loss," he said. "But now that the shuttle has been discontinued, we will survive with this bottleneck for three to four years."
He said commercial operators could be an important part of ongoing space operations.
"It is an important step, to use commercial firms for such tasks. And I think the entire space community is looking with great interest worldwide toward this experiment."
The end of the shuttle program will not jeopardize the ISS, he said.
"The ISS will continue to be supplied with the available vehicles, not only with the Russian Soyuz -- but also with the Russian space freighter Progress, the European ATV and a Japanese system, HTV. That's guaranteed until at least the end of this decade."