Space Shuttle blues

I am a little saddened about the final flight of the Space Shuttle concluding today. I always wanted to see the spectacle of a shuttle launch, and even planned several trips over the years that were called off due to launch delays. I even kept an eye on launch dates and airline tickets for these last few missions. After 30 years and 135 missions, the remaining shuttles are headed to museums. They were originally expected to last only 100 missions over 10 years, so I agree it is probably time to retire them.

I have always been fascinated by space, I am sure mostly because of Star Wars / Star Trek. But regardless, I paid attention to the shuttle program from a very young age, here are some highlights:

  • I remember loving the fact that the first test shuttle was named Enterprise after good ole’ USS Enterprise (NCC-1701)
  • I had a plastic model of the Space Shuttle Columbia as a 7-year-old – given to me by my dad’s mother
  • Five years later, I was home from school on January 28, 1986, the day of the Challenger disaster. I was glued to the TV news coverage all day. Although, it does seem by the end of the day I wish I could watch something else (Probably Incredible Hulk or Dukes of Hazzard), but when you only have 3 channels and there is a national disaster your choices are limited
  • I was an online editor when Columbia was destroyed upon re-entry in 2003. I created some multimedia timelines and infographics for the newspaper’s online coverage of the tragedy.
  • I visited the Enterprise at the Smithsonian while in D.C. for some Web Development training in 2004.
  • So the big question, is what will become of our space program now that the shuttles are grounded? How many years will our astronauts have to hitch rides in 1960s-designed Russian Soyuz rockets until NASA can come up with something new?

    Will it be the end of the space age? I hope not! But the way the US and world economy is right now, I could see it sitting on the back-burner for a while unless private commercial space efforts take a huge leap forward.

    Will it truly shift its focus to deep space exploration? I hope so. The Shuttle program was designed as a re-usable orbital – basically just a cargo hauler to launch satellites and bring supplies to the International Space Station. So while it did that successfully and outlasted its predicted lifespan, it didn’t really push human expansion into outer space. Now is the time to think big and start sending humans deep into space. It might also be a good time to make an international space agency to pool our resources across nations for this grand human endeavor to ‘go boldly’, and so forth.

    (By the way, if you think NASA was not completely successful due to the loss of two shuttles, I am not sure a 1.48% disaster rate is all that bad when you consider the bazillion things that could go wrong propelling a metal box 17,500 mph into orbit strapped to two giant rockets and 2.5-million pounds of explosives, then letting it fly for millions of miles through the thermosphere before bringing it back in for a safe landing. So hopefully with time, space travel will be as safe as modern airliners, in which the chance of fatal crash is one in 53,000,000, but for now I’d say they are doing pretty good.)

2 Responses to “Space Shuttle blues”

  1. I am very saddened as well! Very interesting article Steve and I even learned a few things. I was home from school the day the Challenger exploded, and can still visualize all the news coverage on our 3 stations.

  2. You can say it steve, you were really wanting to watch ” facts of life” . It’s ok , open up, I might laugh at you a little.