Thursday, July 21, 2011

End of the Shuttle Era

I remember making a space shuttle cockpit simulator out of tinker toys back in the early '80s after watching the first launch of Columbia. Now, with little fanfare, the shuttle program is over. After over 30 years, there will be no more shuttles or shuttle launches. I'm kind of sad about that.

There were a LOT of shuttle missions. Even with the gaps after the tragic accidents in '86 and '02, the shuttle program managed to fly more than 4 times a year for a total of 35 more missions than the intended 100.

However, the shuttle program was never really that great. A lot of science was done on those missions, but was it done efficiently? Imagine all the science that could have been done in those 30 years if we had chosen a cheaper launch vehicle which was less complicated and could be reconfigured to be even more cost effective.

What's next? The government has a shuttle-looking craft that it can launch for long duration flights, but there have been no indications that it is manned. And it wouldn't be for science, or at least not the the kind of science that benefits everyone.

For the first time in half a century, America has no way to send men into space. That is depressing.

But there is hope.

The hope is private industry. There are currently several ventures attempting manned space flight. Some have reached the boundary of space. Soon, no doubt, we will see private citizens going into space, simply for the thrill.

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