Jul 21, 2011

Farewell Atlantis

In the wee small hours of this morning, the space shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida, bringing STS-135 to a close and officially ending the US space shuttle program.  As has been well documented by this point, it's a bittersweet ending, as the mothballing of the shuttle fleet leaves America with no means of autonomous space flight.  From now on, we'll be depending on the Russian Soyuz craft to get our astronauts to the ISS, a prospect that has left many Americans more than a bit dismayed.  (Although none of this righteous indignation ever seems to manifest itself whenever NASA gets its budget slashed...)

Fact of the matter is that the decommissioning of the shuttles was long overdue, and while I'm disappointed in our lack of an immediate replacement, I give the White House credit for recognizing and admitting that the Constellation program that was intended to succeed the shuttles was, in fact, both costly and inefficient.  Moreover, starting over from scratch has allowed NASA to refocus the goals of our new ships, which will now be focused not simply on returning to the moon, but on long distance spaceflight as well, sending astronauts to asteroids, Mars and beyond.  While it will leave a gap in our spaceflight capabilities, scrapping the Constellation program looks to have been the right move and I look forward to seeing the next generation of U.S. spacecraft.  

To go out on a high note, I'll leave you with this link to the In Focus photo blog, which has put together an excellent gallery of images that depict STS-135 from start to finish.  It also includes my absolute favorite photo to come out of all the media hoopla surrounding the final shuttle launch: that of a father and son who were present for the the first shuttle launch in 1981, and re-staged their photo 30 years later at the final launch.

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