The space shuttle is about to launch for the last time. Over the course of its 30 year life the shuttle has seen 132 successful missions and 2 fatal catastrophes. It has repaired the Hubble telescope, built the international space station, and recorded countless scientific observation. It has appeared in movies, comic books, video games, postage stamps, and every aspect of pop culture imaginable. If the space shuttle were a person you would wish you could be like it.
The world mourned together when we watched 7 astronauts lose their lives in the 1986 Challenger disaster, and again in 2003 when 7 more perished in the Columbia. Still, neither of those two tragedies were enough to stop the Shuttle
program. The shuttle and the army of scientists and technicians that maintain it soldiered on. But in recent years of economic troubles and budget cuts throughout Washington, where every government program is potentially on the chopping block, the space shuttle program has been deemed too expensive to be continued.
With the end of space shuttle program the over 6,000 contractors who support it face an uncertain future, and NASA will have to find ways to explore space from the ground. Not long ago there were rumblings at NASA about returning to the moon and manned missions to Mars. Now if we want to get off our own planet we will have to hitch a ride with the Russians.
Until 2010 a successor to the shuttle called Project Constellation had been planned, but that program has also been cut. As it currently stands NASA has no planned date or project that might get us back into manned space travel. This leaves NASA with a few unmanned space projects still in the works to study the atmosphere of mars and some of the outer planets, and the Hubble telescope, and NASA will still be conducting some operations on the International Space Station, but those trips will have to be made via the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
In the 1960’s the moon race and television programs like “Star Trek” gave the impression that space travel was an inevitable form of manifest destiny. Mankind would reach for the stars and stop at nothing “To boldly go where no one had gone before.” Today that dream has been put on hold, but hopefully not for long.