Back for Good

Back for Good

Atlantis Ends Era
of Reusable Shuttles

No one would put it better than the Grateful Dead: What a long, strange trip it’s been.
As Atlantis touched down earth today, from a 12-day mission to the International Space Station, it officially put an end to NASA’s 25 year old Space Shuttle Program (scroll down) and closed the chapter on the terminally misguided concept of easy, accessible and affordable space travel.
The program that managed to carry into short, low orbit trips, a dozen or so civilians, with most returning safely to earth, also turned into its own enemy in the process.
Constant delays, accidents and questionable science projects, unwittingly helped it to become a symbol of NASA excesses and inability to set clear goals for itself after the Apollo missions.
Two catastrophic disasters only reinforced the public notion that human space travel is in fact unnecessarily expensive, dangerous and ultimately replaceable.
So, even with the two other cosmetics missions still scheduled for this year, and no one is saying anything about their purposes, there remains the fact that NASA still has no viable alternatives to the shuttle program yet.
Atlantis and its surviving sisters, space-virgin Enterprise, Discovery and Endeavour (Challenger exploded at launch in 1986, and Columbia disintegrated reentering the atmosphere in 2003), are destined to become museum relics as expensive and in bad need of a back story as any.
For a while now, instead of the almost glamourous image of a space limo to come and usher some of us to heavens, the clanky, twice as dangerous, old fashioned Russian rockets, themselves refurbished relics of the cold war’s space race, will have to do.
Atlantis and its dream have been brought down to earth and we should be thankful that, at least, it didn’t crash down over our heads. It only bruised a bit the heart of explorers some of us still cherish. So long and thanks for the blazing memories.

***

One Last Flight

For Soaring Fleet

Space Dreams
and Tragedy Come to
Standing Still

The Atlantis roared towards space May 14, 2010, in the final planned flight for NASA’s Shuttle Program. The orbiter is delivering vital parts to the International Space Station and will remain docked up there for at least 12 days.
It’s the 32nd flight of the program that lasted 25 years and sent to space a small crowd of international and highly trained rocket scientists and a few civilians who joined in out of idealism or the power of sheer cash.
Besides developing scientific experiments we’re all too dumb to understand, successive crews helped build the station and document with unprecedented detail environmental and climate changes happening on the ground of our blue planet.
No one will forget the two catastrophes that marked its history: the explosion of the Challenger within minutes of its launch, in 1986, and the disintegration of the shuttle that started the program, Columbia, while reentering Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.
For a while, the Enterprise, which never flew into space, the doomed Columbia and Challenger, and the about-to-be-decommissioned Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour fired up our imagination with their thrusting power and ability to perform multiple flights.
Then high costs, both material and in human lives, put a dump in the program, which struggled for years in need of funds. In the end, they lost public support faster than NASA could come up with a viable replacement.
We’re years away from the next space program, if ever there’ll be one, and no one knows what we’ll be boarding to take off and come back home safely.
May Atlantis come back safe and sound. Like its sister ships, it’ll most likely end its days as a museum exhibit. Not much for a spacecraft that traveled so far but not far enough to fulfill the old human dream of flying among the stars.
For now, though, it’ll do it. God speed, Flying Bus.

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