At 09:57:54 GMT today, July 21st, 2011, the Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis rolled to a safe stop on Runway 15 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, marking the end of last Shuttle flight.
It flew 33 missions since its first launch in 1985, spending over 300 days in space and making nearly 5000 orbits of the Earth. It visited Mir, the ISS, and even Hubble.
With this landing, the Era of the Shuttle is over. But our presence in space is not. NASA still has working rockets that can carry machines into space, and is working on developing a new rocket system. Private companies are gathering the capability to go to space and to low-Earth orbit. Other countries still have the ability to take humans into space as well. As Americans we pride ourselves on our history of exploration and being the first. For now, that pride may have to wait.
But I’ll note that after Apollo 17, the last Moon landing, it was 8 years before the first Shuttle launch. I’m hoping the current gap that began this morning will last much less than that. I wish there were no gap at all, but here we are. The status of manned spaceflight could be a lot better right now, but things could also be worse.
And don’t forget that the House of Representatives is planning on gutting NASA, canceling the James Webb Space Telescope, and more. If the last flight of the Shuttle makes you sad, I suggest you channel that energy and use it to contact your Representative and Senator.
The Shuttle may now be Earthbound, but that is no reason for us to be.