Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Endeavor's Last Flight, Orbital Hotels, and Spaceports

"Shuttle Endeavour's Space Finale an 'Incredible' Trip, Astronauts Say"
Denise Chow, (June 1, 2011)

"...mission specialists Mike...Fincke, a veteran spaceflyer, set a new record for the number of days spent in space by a U.S. astronaut during Endeavour's STS-134 mission. Endeavour's final flight was his first aboard one of NASA's space shuttles. Previously, Fincke served two long duration stints onboard the International Space Station, both times launching to the station on a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft.

"Having the opportunity to fly a shuttle mission, particularly one of the last missions of the program, was a dream come true, he said.

" 'Getting a chance to fly on the space shuttle was a dream of mine, and I couldn't have asked to do it with a better group of guys here on our crew, and couldn't have asked for a better ground support team,' Fincke said. 'It was everything I dreamed of when I was that 8- or 9-year-old that wanted to fly on this new space shuttle thing. It wasn't even built yet – it was still in planning.'

" 'That's all I wanted to do,' he said. 'I made a t-shirt with the space shuttle on it with markers because they weren't out in stores yet. I still have that t-shirt, and you know, childhood dreams don't always come true, and sometimes your life comes in, but man, this dream – the reality was better than the dream. I mean, can you believe that? It was so incredible. We just landed a few hours ago and I'm still just basking in it. I can't believe, that was so surreal how wonderful that was.'

"NASA has one more shuttle mission planned – the STS-135 flight of Atlantis in July – before the program is officially retired. The three working orbiters, plus the test vehicle Enterprise, will then begin the next phase of their lives on display at museums around the country."

Quite a lot has happened in the last half-century. Space technology has gone from a basketball-size satellite in 1957, to the orbital parts of the GPS system, communications and weather satellites, the International Space Station, and robot spaceships exploring the planets and moons of the Solar system.

The Lemming is glad that at least some of the Shuttle fleet will go into museums, to show that part of our history. It would have been nice if we were looking forward to a smoother transition, with new reusable freight and passenger vehicles rolling off assembly lines somewhere.

Still, the International Space Station and its crew has a set of other supply systems to keep them going in the short run.

A little further down the road, outfits like Virgin Galactic is taking bookings for its first suborbital tourist flights. Galactic Suites may not meet its 2012 deadline for opening. Actually, the Lemming's browser couldn't find a server at their URL - which doesn't look good for anyone who invested in the project.

Bigelow Aerospace is still with us, though: and Bristol Aerospace has been around longer than the Lemming.

The half-dozen or so spaceports operating on this continent aren't likely to shut down any time soon, in the Lemming's opinion. Provided that the folks in Washington don't decide to regulate them into oblivion - and that's another topic, probably for another blog.

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