Guest Post: End of an Era: Space Shuttle Program (1981 – 2011)

by Nancy Atkinson on July 21, 2011

Atlantis coming in for landing. Credit: Mike Deep for Universe Today.

Editor’s Note: Ray Sanders from the “Dear Astronomer” website sent us his observations of the end of the space shuttle era.

When space shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida earlier this morning, it marked the end of the Shuttle era. Soon the magnificent “flying bricks” as they are commonly nicknamed will be museum exhibits.

I’ll be able to tell my soon-to-be-born daughter about how I used to watch the shuttle launches when I was her age – much like my father told me about seeing Apollo launches when he was a kid. Having watched the first shuttle launch (I was a little young for the Enterprise rollout), seeing the Challenger explosion on live television with the rest of my 4th grade class, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, construction of the ISS (Originally U.S space station Freedom), the loss of Columbia and too many other missions to list, you could say I grew up with the shuttle program – those birds are very much a part of
the fabric of my life.

Being the little space dweeb that I was ( and still am?) I enjoyed launching my Estes space shuttle rocket (along with my SR-71, Saturn V and V2 models) and had just about every space-themed Lego kit known to exist. Despite the space toys and my extreme interest in space (and astronomy) as a kid, I never got a chance to go to space camp – something I’ll make sure my daughter goes to if she’s interested. My hopes are that when she’s old enough to appreciate it, there will be a form of space exploration that captivates her as much as the shuttles did during their time.

To a certain degree, I envy those a bit older than myself who were lucky to watch the lunar landings in the late 60?s and early 70?s. I write this on the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11, when the human race first stepped on the moon. I’m sure space enthusiasts a bit older than I am were a bit dismayed about the end of Apollo and had lingering questions about whether or not the fancy new “space shuttles” would even get off the ground. Fast forward through thirty years of the shuttle program and an entirely new generation sits at the precipice, asking the very same question: “where do we go from here?”


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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