When the space shuttle Atlantis touches down for the final time the event will mark not only the end of the current space program for NASA, but it also ends a thirty year era of U.S. space exploration. As NASA begins to turn its full attention to deeper space exploration and transfer the bulk of low earth orbit missions to private industry, it is doubtful that we will ever see a space vehicle the scale and design of the space shuttle fly again in our lifetimes -- a reusable space “cargo truck” that blasted off into orbit via a ground based launching pad with the assistance of two massive solid fuel rocket boosters and return to terra firma by actually flying the orbiter like a huge glider back to earth and landing on wheels like an airplane. None of us alive today are likely to see that again.
The remaining shuttle fleet Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor were unique space planes designed for the primary purpose of building the space station. Now with that project essentially complete, the shuttle fleet prepares for retirement at various air museums across the country.
The next generation of space vehicles is envisioned to be modernized and reconfigured space capsule design that is more similar to the “Apollo” system of space exploration than the shuttle. Astronauts climb aboard a capsule atop a rocket and blast into space with return systems designed to re-enter earth’s atmosphere like a bullet and parachute back to earth with a soft water landing.
With a 30 year launch history, there are millions who saw a space shuttle launch, while millions more saw many more of them on television. All who witnessed one in person will tell you the same thing. Each launch was simply indescribable. The sight of 2 million pounds of propellant being burned , the 700 foot plume of fire from the shuttle’ engines or the ground shaking roar of liftoff, each launch was a once in a lifetime experience, a bucket list event that is seared into the memories of everyone who stood and watched. There will come a day when future generations will be amazed if not transfixed, with each account of the fiery liftoff from someone who can say, “I saw a space shuttle launch.” They were indeed unique and undeniably special space planes.
For those who want to preserve these once-in-a-lifetime moments of a shuttle launch, In the News, Inc. will mount personal photos, articles or other element on a wall plaque that will keep the memory of the space shuttle alive for many generations to come. As unique space vehicles, the shuttle deserves a special place in history and it is up to all of us fortunate enough to live during this unique time in space exploration history to make sure the accomplishments of the space shuttle are not forgotten as more glamorous and indeed, more significant deep space achievements are made in the future.