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


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?”

5 Replies to “Guest Post: End of an Era: Space Shuttle Program (1981 – 2011)”

  1. I watched the last Apollo missions, and while it was sad that the program was ending prematurely there was no doubt that the shuttle would be ready eventually. And we had Skylab to keep us busy in the meantime — we weren’t reduced to hitching a ride.

  2. Everyone knows community organizing is more important than reaching for the stars! Give that money to GE and the unions.

  3. My son recently turned 6 years old and is a total science nut. His mind is always working in overdrive and he watches everything with an intensity that is amazing for me to watch. I love that he asks so many questions and that we have a chance to find the answers to as many as we can together.

    I remember as an early teenager going to the space center in Florida and being amazed at the array of launchers there, most of which served as missile launchers intitially. But the real thrill for me was the Saturn V. It simply dwarfed everthing that came before it. But still I felt indside that the shuttle was the better way to go. It seemed to me at the time that it was launching all the time. ( At that time it still had the external tank painted white.) carrying people I could relate to and launching amazing stuff. Naive? Probably. But still it grabbed my interest and I have been addited to space, science and technology ever since.

    I whonder if in 10 years or so when we go to one of the space center museums if my son will look at the shuttle and think the same thoughts. ‘Wow, this is cool but what we have now is a lot more interesting and far more practical etc.’ I would love to watch an asteroid landing and see the astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts or who ever jump dozens of meters from spot to spot and still see the fire in his eyes.

  4. Where do we go from here is the epitaph of the shuttle efforts. Saturn/Apollo investment was discarded by a new team who spent at (lest equivalent) money and started to see their goals become mature by the time their contributions were dismantled. The Shuttle/Booster second infrastructure was dismantled by Bush but he promised a third round of space investments. NASA had just started so build the 3rd infrastructure from the ground up when Obama scuttled it all.

    Obama posits dreams of asteroid miners (maybe) but is firm in Zero Dollar Support. Why should a new effort be expected to arise without the investment of an equivalent amount that we Americans have done and dismembered twice before?
    Charles Armentrout — Ann Arbor.

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