Monday, July 07, 2008

Twilight of the Shuttles

It's no secret that NASA plans to retire the space shuttle by the end of 2010, but I was still a little saddened to receive a KSC press release just now with the subject "NASA Sets Launch Dates For Remaining Space Shuttle Missions." After STS-125 (the final Hubble servicing mission set for October 8), there is one more ISS mission this year (STS-126, November 10) and five ISS missions in 2009. There appears to be only one set mission for 2010 (STS-131 in February) with two "shuttle-equivalent flights for contingency" (STS-132 and -133). The Consolidated Launch Manifest also lists several Russian and one Japanese non-shuttle launch with ISS completion tasks.

I'm glad I got to witness a shuttle launch at KSC last August (Endeavour on STS-118). That's my photo above - not the greatest shuttle launch picture, I know, but I took it. If you haven't gotten to experience this in person, I highly recommend doing so while you still have a chance. I hope to witness one more myself in the few remaining months of the program. Born out of cost-cutting compromises that never allowed it to be a truly low-cost, fully reusable vehicle, the shuttle experienced its share of problems and two major tragedies. But it flew hundreds of people in space and accomplished some amazing things, including the launch and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope and the enormous space construction project that is the ISS. It will be a long time before we see a manned vehicle as awesome as this "space transportation system." We're nearing the end of a remarkable era.


Marco said...

Yep, sad but true, the Shuttle never became the mainstream tool to reach for space. I've witnessed the STS-106 launch in 2000 and it's a sight (and sound+feeling) to never forget. You should try to get press accreditation, if it's still like in 2000, you should also be able to visit the VAB and other "close sight" areas.

Regarding your last comment, I don't know, I think the Saturn V may have been more awesome to watch than the shuttle, and the current NASA plans are to actually go back to that design and power again. But to me, it can hardly be seen as a re-usable craft.

It also makes me think that development of more efficient, more powerful spacecraft has halted for more than 20 years. Imagine if we'd not have the Shuttle, but instead continued with the Saturn V and derived from that (since essentially that's what NASA is doing for the new programme). Would we be on Mars already? And have a Moon base?

Anyway, the Shuttle is a marvel, it's actually a shame it'll be grounded.

L. Riofrio said...

Am glad you made it to the Carnival. Congressional Bill HR 6063, which passed by an overwhelming 409-15 majority, orders one additional flight (STS-134?) to deliver the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. In my limited capacity, I have been working on ideas to make that happen.