The End of the Space Shuttle Era

Last week marked the end of the historic Space Shuttle era of exploration.  Over the past 30 years, the Space Shuttle is responsible for the launch of countless space probes and satellites that have broadened our knowledge of the Universes.  Many of these probes and satellites are functional today and are providing NASA with massive databanks of information.  It is hard to believe that the program was ended, but its accomplishments have been extraordinary.

Before we recognize the accomplishments of the program, we must honor those lost as a result of it.  The crew of Space Shuttle Challenger were lost January 28, 1986 when the shuttle exploded 76 seconds after takeoff.  The crew consisted of: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik.  Following the Challenger disaster, the Space Shuttle program was put on hold to investigate the disaster and ensure the shuttles were safe for future missions.

The crew of Challenger

The second incident occurred February 1, 2003 when Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed on reentry due to damage to heat resistant tiles during the shuttle’s launch.  The crew consisted of: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, and Laurel Clark.  Again, NASA halted the program to ensure the shuttles were safe.  Many believe this led to the end of the Space Shuttle program.  Many felt the shuttles were beginning to show their age and the funds necessary to revamp the shuttles was not available.

The Crew of Columbia

The Space Shuttle program was successful in many other aspects of space exploration.  Here are some facts and figures from the past 31 years:

-System length: 184.2 ft

-Orbiter length: 122.17 ft.

-External Tank length: 153.8 ft.

-Solid Rocket Boosters length: 149.16 ft.

-System height: 76.6 ft.

-Orbiter height: 56.58 ft

-Orbiter wingspan: 78.06 ft.

-Gross take-off weight: 4.5 million lbs.

-SRBs(2): 3,300,000 lbs. Thrust each in vacuum

-Main Engines (3): 393,800 lbs. Thrust each at sea level at 104 percent

-Cargo bay: 60 ft. long, 15 ft. diameter

-Enterprise – NEVER FLOWN

-Columbia – 28 missions, first launched: Apr 12, 1981

-Challenger – 10 missions, first launched: Apr 04, 1983

-Discovery – 39 missions, first launched: Aug 30, 1984

-Atlantis – 32 missions, first launched: Oct 03, 1985

-Endeavour – 25 missions, first launched: May 07, 1992

There are simply too many accomplishments to list!  From the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope to the countless missions to the International Space Station, the Space Shuttles have been at the cutting edge of space eduction.  There are still missions within NASA to get exited about, such as New Horizons mission to Pluto, but there will be a big gap without the occasional launch of a space shuttle.  We will be able to enjoy these marvels of technology, however.  NASA announced that each Space Shuttle would be sent to a new home in its retirement.  The shuttles will be sent to:

-Atlantis: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida

-Endeavour: the California Science Center in Los Angeles

-Discovery: the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia

-Enterprise: the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York (moved from its current location at the Smithsonian)

The Space Shuttles will likely not be moved until 2012, but it will be exiting to see them in person.  The launch of a Space Shuttle is one of the most awesome spectacles that I have ever witnessed (never in person, unfortunately), so I leave you with an image of a rare, but spectacular, night launch.

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