The Last of the Shuttle Missions

July 16, 2011

Space Shuttle "Enterprise" at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Copyright 2004 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The last of the NASA Space Shuttle missions is currently in progress.  Thirty years of rocket rides with two well-publicized disasters-Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003-is ending once Atlantis returns home.   The Challenger explosion was a watershed moment for the space program and is used as a teaching-point in Sociology 101 classes when we discuss the topic of groupthink.

I am old enough to remember televisions, black-and-white televisions, being wheeled into classrooms as the networks broadcast the Apollo missions.  These historic launches were America’s entry in the race to beat the Soviets to the moon.  While many children were no doubt inspired by these launches and went on to careers in math, science, and the aerospace industries, I was just glad to not have the regular class content forced upon us for that time period.

I also clearly remember being too young to have had any conception of what it meant to have traveled to the moon and back. No, I was much more influenced by the original “Star Trek” as I thought THAT Enterprise was far cooler than anything in NASA’s fleet at the time.

(The photograph above is the Space Shuttle Enterprise currently housed at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center)

And so just as “Star Trek” eventually reached the end of its missions,  this era of NASA has just about come to a close.  With the retirement of the shuttle program, NASA will rely on Russian spacecraft to transport American astronauts into space as the United States will no longer have a vehicle for this purpose.  Quite ironic as it was Sputnik that provided a scientific and cultural motivation for the American space program leading to that race for the moon.

Take care.

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