Thursday, July 21, 2011

Space Shuttle Era Ends: "It's On to the Next Adventure"

"Atlantis Makes Final Landing, Ending 30-Year Shuttle Program" (July 21, 2011)

"After decades of inspiring millions around the globe, space shuttle Atlantis made a final, picture-perfect touchdown at Kennedy Space Center at 5:56 a.m. EDT -- ending the shuttle program.

" 'Job well done, America,' mission control told pilot Doug Hurley and the thousands watching and listening to the landing in the pre-dawn dark.

"There was a clear sense of nostalgia on the part of both crew and staff at Kennedy Space Center, as the ship made its final arrival safe and sound.

" 'Having fired the imaginations of a generation, a ship like no other, its place in history secured, the space shuttle pulls into port for the last time -- its voyage at an end,' reported mission control.

" 'Mission complete, Houston,' Hurley responded. 'After serving the world for over 30 years, the space shuttle has earned its place in history. Atlantis has come to a final stop.'

" 'It's been 30 great years for the Space Shuttle program,' said Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society, in a statement on the landing. 'With this venerable space vehicle retired, it's on to the next adventure.'..."

The Lemming indulged in a little nostalgia - including taking a look at a 360-degree interactive picture of Mission Control on NASA's Space Shuttle Multimedia page. That room has changed - a little - since the '60s. Each station's screens are a lot more colorful, rows of mission emblems are on the wall, and the folks at each station don't all look quite so much alike: signs left by three decades of rapid change.

It's been an exciting ride, in many ways.

Now What?

(from NASA, used w/o permission)
"Space shuttle Atlantis lands for the final time at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls"

Americans with travel plans in low Earth orbit and beyond are in for an awkward transition, in the Lemming's opinion. NASA's extended their contract with the Russian space program, so we've got reservations on Soyuz vehicles through June 30, 2016. (NASA press release (March 14, 2011)) That takes care of basic transportation needs for folks working shifts at the International Space Station - but that's about that.

Considering how shaky the Federal government's finances are - the Lemming thinks it's probably good sense for the feds to let someone else get the job done, when it comes to routine freight and passenger runs.

On the other hand, the Lemming compared one of of NASA's high-profile missions with what advertisers spent on Super Bowl commercials - and what Congress does with our money. And that's another topic.

Meanwhile, quite a few folks have been developing their own spaceships. Some, like Virgin Galactic, with a great deal of publicity. Others, like Blue Origin's New Shepard program, very quietly indeed.

It's not just American companies that have their eyes on Earth orbit and beyond. There's Skylon, the Reaction Engines Ltd. spaceplane; and Japan's H-2 Transfer Vehicle 1.

Building spaceships isn't the only way to be involved with the next few decades in space. Bigelow Aerospace is focusing on developing rental properties in Earth orbit.

The Space Shuttles are headed for museums and history textbooks - after hauling freight and people to what's arguably the first construction site in space: the International Space Station. The ISS is just about finished now, so we probably won't need the sort of freight-car cargo capacity that the Shuttle offered. Not right away.

A few years down the road, we could be seeing everything from flying gumdrops to hypersonic waveriders carrying cargo and passengers to and from whatever joins the ISS in orbit.

Like the fellow said, "It's on to the next adventure"

What's next?Somewhat-related posts:
More, on the NASA website:


Brigid said...

Eh? "after being hauling freight and people"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Oops. Fixed, thanks!

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