Unless you have been living under a rock for the last few days, you know that today’s launch of the Shuttle Atlantis marks the beginning of the end of the Shuttle program. The launch went relatively smoothly with a minor hiccup at t-minus 31 seconds when a sensor failed to report the removal of one of the arms from launch vehicle. (Pardon me for not knowing the technical name.)
Atlantis was not the newest in the fleet, but it was one of the work horses with nearly 34 missions completed.
The Shuttle program lasted 30 years and was in the planning stages for over a decade prior. With the loss of the Columbia in 2003, then President Bush ordered that the International Space Station be completed and shuttle program ended after that. Former President Bush also, at the same time, outlined a bold initiative to return us to the moon and beyond. NASA embarked on the Constellation program which, in reality, was a retread of the Apollo program-a successful program so why not bring it back. Problem was, the program was never fully funded and current President Obama lacks the foresight to continue it and has ordered NASA on a more foolish direction. President Obama is probably the worst thing to happen to NASA since the 1970 Congress.
The Shuttle program was not without fault and resulted in the loss of two spacecraft and 13 lives. Shuttle Challenger was blown apart in 1986 after the failure of insulating ‘O’ rings in one of the solid rocket boosters and the Shuttle Columbia, the first operational orbiter, disintegrated over Texas after a piece of foam from the liquid fuel tank punched a hole in Columbia and allowed hot gas from re-entry to weaken the structure of the craft resulting in the disintegration of the Columbia.
Tragedy aside, the Shuttle program was a tremendous success. Shuttles could do almost anything in Earth orbit from repairing satellites, launching satellites, assemble the space station, perform a multitude of science experiments and more. Perhaps the best example were the service missions for the Hubble. Hubble was hobbled with an imperfect lenses at launch which made it near-sighted. A shuttle mission not only fixed that issue, but upgraded Hubble’s hardware. There were a few such missions that have resulted in Hubble lasting longer than originally designed.
So, now, thirty years later, the Shuttle program is winding down. With that, some seven to nine-thousand workers will lose their jobs in Florida and else where. The United States loses its manned space ability and must now buy rides from our former adversaries, the Russians. Now, please don’t misunderstand, I love our Russian friends. The Russian Space Program is awesome in its own right. But for the leading space faring nation on the planet to now have to BUY rides from outside the country is ludicrous. There’s no doubt that the Shuttle’s were at the end of their life, but one would have thought that a replacement would have been on the drawing board LONG BEFORE the end were announced. They should have had a replacement ready to pick up where Shuttle left off. This is just preposterous.
My hats off to NASA for doing as well as they have with the tiny fraction of funding they’ve had. Mistakes or not, they have done a remarkable job and for the program to end the way it has is embarrassing and both President Obama and former President Bush should be ashamed of themselves.