Space shuttle Atlantis is seen through the window of a Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) as it launches from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center on the STS-135 mission, Friday, July 8, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Atlantis launched on the final flight of the shuttle program on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. The STS-135 crew will deliver the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Dick Clark)

Does the story end?

Shuttle at twilight - image credit:NASA

The final flight of the Shuttle program is upon us. It’s time to stop and reflect on the last 30 years of flights and what it has meant to the space program. Over at NASA they have created a shuttle memorial page where many key people reflect on the program and what it meant to them.
Shuttle Memories
The American public seems slightly ambivalent to the Shuttle program however a CBS affiliate in Miami did a  recent poll that shows the Majority of the public feel the Shuttle program was worth the cost.
Was it worth the cost?
What is the future of the US space program? Does it fizzle out here without a means to place men in orbit. In Part 1 of this posting I mentioned that from 1975 with the Apollo-Soyuz mission until 1981 with the first Shuttle mission the US did not put a man in space. This was the longest drought period for NASA. Unless something changes we may break that record. Will commercial space come to our rescue in this country? Will companies like SpaceX come through and launch men in orbit within a reasonable amount of time or will these dreams fade away in the inherent complexity of manned flight?
Already our limits are showing. This last Shuttle flight will only have 4 astonauts instead of 7. Why? Because this is the last operational shuttle and the only way to mount a rescue if something goes wrong is to use Russia’s Soyuz which has a limit of 2 passengers and pilot and would require two flights to resue.

As I posted in Part 2 of this article modelers have excellent resources to commemorate and honor the Shuttle Program. Build models, support rocketry, and fly rockets. The best method for getting the US space program jump started again is to pay forward. Get the kids interested in rocketry and aerospace. Ignite their imaginations. Provide our tomorrows with bright new minds.

Dr. Zooch Shuttle launching (see part 2)

Here are a few photo journals of the Shuttle Program:

Time Magazine’s Photo History of the Shuttle

The Atlantic’s History of the Shuttle

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