As we stand at the eve of the end of the iconic Space Shuttle Programme I thought I’d highlight this glorious picture, taken and tweeted by @astro_ron from one of the ‘bedroom’ windows of the International Space Station. It just doesn’t look real does it? And maybe that was the problem with the programme as a whole and the problem with the coverage of the final mission. The hopes of the programme weren’t realistic, and morning its loss is a bit too little too late.
The Space Shuttle is unique, the only human carrying space craft to take off like a rocket and land like an airplane. (well the only one that worked, last time I checked the Russian’s ‘Buran’ wasn’t in a great condition…)
It was meant to make space routine, just like the dreams of those growing up in the Apollo era and was originally meant to launch once a week. But when you’re traveling at 17,500MPH nothing is routine and when a launch can be scrubbed because it’s too cold, too hot, too windy, too cloudy or because the Air Force decides its their turn to launch something into space this week it was never going to be a weekly occurrence.
The Space Shuttle was treated as a toy by American Politicians and the media alike to throw at NASA whenever they asked for money. Because neither of these groups could accept that the original brief of the Shuttle had changed. Ironic from a world where u-turns aren’t exactly rare. And as I have said before NASA is now better off without it.
As the Space Shuttle lands tomorrow it will provide a brief and magnificent distraction from the phone hacking scandal, the twin sonic booms filling the skies around Florida and the Gulf of Mexico providing the grand entrance into the history books it deserves.
The phrase ‘wheel stop’ is unlikely to be uttered over the radio of a craft returning from space for a long time but that doesn’t mean NASA is an agency without a plan. I’ve been to two #NASATweetups this year and watched Space Shuttle Atlantis take off from 3 miles away and belive me they have a plan. They aren’t sitting there twiddling their thumbs thinking ‘what should we do now’, these guys are looking to the future.
Unlike the idea of the Shuttle making space routine the idea of humans ‘landing’ on an asteroid within the century is not a pipe dream. It will happen. But unless some massive geopolitical conflict appears in the next few years and a space race is the best way to show a states power we’re going to have to be patient. The public might see space through snippets of big events but its worth reminding everyone that humans have lived continuously in space for ten years now and will do so for another ten years. And unlike many of those who watched the moon landings 42 years ago I will go into space in my lifetime, there just might not be a million people watching me do it like there were for the final Space Shuttle launch.