Saturday, 9 July 2011

The last shuttle


Atlantis has set off on the last shuttle flight, and so I thought I would put down a few of my thoughts on the shuttle program.

I was born a couple of months before Armstrong walked on the moon, and I effectively grew up expecting the Space Shuttle to change spaceflight. I don't really remember the Apollo-Soyuz link-up, but I remember Skylab flying, and then falling. I barely remember anything about the Russian space program as a child.

About the time of the first shuttle flight, I sent a letter to NASA asking if they had any information about the shuttle I could have (remember, this was in the stone age when there was no internet), and I received a deluge, more packages than I can remember on the shuttle program, and its future promise.

I've always enjoyed watching the shuttle fly, but looking back I realise that it didn't really reach the potential outlined at the starts. The Challenger accident, as well as introducing me to Feynman, revealed how dangerous the shuttle was (it still does not have a launch abort system, unlike every other manned rocket), and this was recognized by the astronauts.

But the shuttle has done some amazing things, and for me (and my research) repairing Hubble was amazing. If Hubble breaks down now, then that's it. With JWST looking a little shaky, we may have to say goodbye to large optical telescopes in orbit.

So, it's almost goodbye shuttle. I hope Atlantis has a safe flight and eventually finds rest in a museum somewhere. With the Americans now heading towards a glorified apollo capsule in the form of the Orion spacecraft, I can't but help think that a big step backwards in space travel is being made.

Before leaving, I should mention that I am a fan of manned spaceflight, but the shuttle is not my favorite spacecraft, or apollo, gemini or mercury. In fact, my favorite is not even american, and I would fly on it, if offered, in a heartbeat. My favorite is soyuz;

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