Today marks the end of the United States Space Shuttle Program as the last member of the fleet, Orbiter Atlantis, lands from its final mission before being inscribed into history. Once the ship had safely touched terra firma once more this signaled the end of NASA’s iconic space exploration program after three decades. After the ship had landed NASA had remarked that Atlantis and the rest of the fleet had ‘Fired the imagination of a generation’. So what next for the Worlds greatest superpower and their pole position in the space race?
The Space Shuttle program has now been retired after 30 years and 135 missions at the forefront of global space travel and transportation. Flight costs and the fact that the shuttles primary objective to aid the construction of the International Space Station, that is almost complete, have urged NASA and the US government to call it a day on Atlantis and her sister ships.
Columbia was the first space worthy shuttle that conducted the opening mission STS -1 when it launched from the Kennedy Space Centre, Florida on April 12th 1981. The Shuttle consisted of an Orbiter Vehicle, two solid rocket boosters and an external fuel tank. Commander John Young and Pilot Robert Crippen, two of NASA’s finest, flew the Shuttle and according to the space agency embodied ‘exceptional expertise and experience’. The primary objective was to test atmospheric pressures forced on the ship as the craft was very much still in a developmental stage. After the mission was completed the then President of the United States Ronald Regan said ‘the landing of Columbia…. marks our entrance into a new era’. Charging the excitement and expectations of an entire nation not to mention the rest of the World.
The program was primarily successful over the three decades it was running. Missions included deploying satellites, conducting experiments in orbit with the use of ‘SpaceLab’ and even docking with the Russian Space Station ‘MIR’. Disaster also plagued the shuttle missions with the loss of both Challenger in 1986 and the original ship Columbia in 2003. Destroyed due to mechanical failure on exit and re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere respectively. All Shuttle launches were suspended for two and half years after a report issued, by US congress, that the safety crew ‘failed to adequately assess anomalies and frequently accepted critical risks without qualitative or quantitative support’.
For the near future America will rely on its former adversary in the space race, Russia, for its transportation of astronauts and scientific payloads to the International Space Station.
Now the program has come to the end of its manoeuvres, America will be looking elsewhere for its commercial space flight vehicles. Private aerospace and development companies have been interlocked in a race to sign the contract for the next fleet of manned space vehicles. NASA believes to have found this craft, Lockheed Martin’s ‘Orion’, but budget cuts and behind schedule construction has brought a slow transition into preparation for its supposedly maiden flight in 2015. Described by NASA chief Michael Griffin as ‘Apollo on steroids’, Orion will be the front-runner in NASA’s Constellation program, a model name for the agency’s missions to the moon, mars and beyond. The design is in fact loosely based on the program that sent the first man to the moon. Is this the giant leap mankind had in mind, or one step back in time?
At least for now the world should celebrate the work this program, and NASA, has done for our planet and will continue to do far beyond this date. Today is a moment in modern history that the entire globe ought to saver because it maybe a while until man steps out into the universe again.
- NASA Signs Over Space Shuttle Enterprise to NYC Museum (space.com)
- Herman Cain Blasts Obama Over Canceling NASA Space Shuttle Program (huffingtonpost.com)
- First & Last Space Shuttle Crews Meet for ‘Bookend’ Photos (space.com)
- NASA posts “help wanted” ad: Astronauts needed (cbsnews.com)