Jul 122011

July 12—A Woodbridge man who once managed the Hubble space telescope program was in Florida last week to see the final Space Shuttle liftoff before the program heads into retirement.

“It was absolutely wonderful to see,” said Bert Bulkin, a NASA veteran. “It’s a pretty sad thing. Cocoa Beach will be a ghost town except for the tourist population.”

Bulkin said he was concerned about some 8,000 contractors who will lose their job due to the termination of the Space Shuttle program. NASA astronauts and workers won’t be affected, he said.

Besides his own interest in space, Bulkin said he went to Florida for Friday’s launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis because his wife, Maggie Talbot, had never seen a blastoff in person.

“You really can’t explain it,” Talbot said. “It’s one of the most awesome experiences I ever had in my life. I’m still awestruck.”

Another person with San Joaquin County roots, astronaut Jose Hernandez, also attended the Atlantis’ launch on Friday. But he sees the Space Shuttle’s retirement as a good thing.

“All good things must come to an end,” Hernandez said from his home in Houston, Texas. “They deserve their retirement. They have given us 135 flights into space. We have a lot to show for it, especially the International Space Station.”

Hernandez became an astronaut after growing up with his family as a farm worker. He graduated from Stockton’s Franklin High School and University of the Pacific. His parents live in rural southeast Lodi.

Hernandez said the space program will be split into two operations. One focuses on operations within 3,000 miles of Earth and will be run by private enterprise. The other program will free up NASA to do what it does best — focusing on aeronautical problems and creating a vehicle that will go to the moon, Mars and beyond.

It will be several years before a new vehicle is created for the next space flight.

“We’ll end up having a six(to) seven-year gap,” he said. “We’re at same stage as we were with the Apollo program starting in 1972.”

Hernandez left NASA and is now executive director of strategic operations for a private aerospace company called MEI Technologies Inc.

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