42 years ago today (or yesterday if you don’t like UTC) A man stood outside his spacecraft and took one small step. Today 4 stepped out of their spacecraft and took one small step backwards. Yes the final ever space shuttle flight touched down a little before 11AM this morning. After a 30 year career that has seen epic adventures, discovered more about our planet and universe and paved the way for the greatest act of international collaboration the Space shuttles have finally completed their mission. And yet it wasn’t all plain sailing. The images of the challenger Shuttle exploding in a fireball over the clear florida sky, or the shining wreckage of Columbia as it broke up in the atmosphere will never be forgotten by those who saw it “live”
For now the US is reliant on the Russians to get them to orbit which has caused howls of protests among Americans and others. Yet they seem to forget that after Apollo there was a pause in US manned flight longer than the one that is being proposed. And unlike the last time there is the capability to continue this endeavor. Maybe they should realize that the exploration of space, like all science is a “collaborative enterprise, spanning the generations…we remember those who prepared the way, seeing for them also”
The shouters and moaners need to realize that in the long run without working together we will hit a brick wall. Our capabilities as a species are limited by what we can do as individuals. At the minute the ESA and Russian agencies are working more closely. My own University (The open one, with the fee’s but more on that later) is working on the next generation of Lunar landers that will uncover more about our neighbor who, until recently we thought of as Boring. But a combination of the 40th anniversary, a renewed push for a manned landing (scrapped for a trip to an asteroid) and new discoveries have breathed a second life into lunar exploration.
Interest in Mars has never waned and NASA plans to send men there in the next few decades using funds that would be swallowed up by Low earth orbit operations which the shuttle could do. In the end the shuttle was old, it was heavy and with the ISS built there was very little it could do now
Yet despite these setbacks you couldn’t help but get a tingle in the spine as one of these huge vehicles roared from the pad on a pillar of flame and the crew, with outstretched hands, touched the face of God.