October 16, 2021

Final Space Shuttle Launch

“Friday July 8th, 2011, marked the final time that a space shuttle made lift off. Hundreds of thousands of people converged on the Kennedy space station at Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch Atlantis make NASA’s 135th and final launch into space.

Final Space Shuttle Launch

NASA was aided by military, government civilians and contractors from the 45th Space Wing of the US Air Force, who provided Eastern range support to the mission.

The launch was not without problems, with weather issues, and a two minute delay thirty one seconds prior to lift off, due to concerns about whether a venting arm had retracted properly.

When Atlantis touches down from the planned twelve day mission, it will mark the end of the shuttle program, which has been in operation for thirty years. It is thought that it will be at least four years before another US launch. This isn’t unusual, as there was a six year gap between the end of the Apollo program and the initial shuttle launch in 1981. Program delays, technical issues and disasters have also led to extended gaps between launches.

Not surprisingly, there are mixed feelings about the retirement of the shuttle.

“”After this mission, we will no longer have the ability to send American astronauts into space ourselves. And, arguably, we will no longer be the leaders in human spaceflight until we get that capability back.”" said former astonaut Leroy Chiao, on NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’.

Cady Coleman, who has recently returned from a long stay at the space station, shared the same feelings, but she thought that NASA needs to take this time to refocus its budget on new technology and vehicles.

“”Going further is what we’re all about, so it’s a hard change. It’s necessary. And in some ways, I think, it’s OK just to take some time to grieve.”" said Coleman.

Brigadier General Ed Wilson, commander of the 45th Space Wing commented “”It’s been our honor to support the space shuttle program the past three decade. The partnership between the Air Force and NASA here on the Eastern Range in support of human spaceflight has truly set the standard for others to follow around the world.”"

He went on to say “”We’re all saddened to see this historic era come to an end, but we look forward with hope and enthusiasm for what lies ahead in our nation’s human spaceflight program here on the Space Coast. Finally, we wish the crew of Atlantis a safe, successful mission and will be ready to support their landing in the days ahead.”"

For thirty years, Atlantis and its four sister shuttles have been considered a powerful US symbol, but have also shown their fragility. Both Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) were destroyed in accidents, resulting in the deaths of fourteen astronauts.

The shuttles, which were originally anticipated to eventually become a routine ‘transportation system’, turned out to be much more complicated, dangerous and expensive than expected.

After the Columbia accident investigation released its finding in 2004, the Bush administration made to the decision to retire the fleet once the International Space Station was completed.”"Columbia’s failure to return home is a harsh reminder that the Space Shuttle is a developmental vehicle that operates not in routine flight but in the realm of dangerous exploration”" reported the board of investigation.

A downside to the end of the shuttle program is the US’ increased dependency on Russian rockets, lasting at least through 2015, when it is hoped that a new US space capsule will be ready for lift off. While the Obama administration has cancelled the planned successor due to it being behind schedule and over budget, NASA is confident that the work already done will contribute to the long term goal of exploration beyond Earth’s orbit, eventually reaching Mars.”

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