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For my generation, NASA spaceflight is the Space Shuttle…

September 24, 2006, 12:33 AM

I’ve been following the articles on the Space Shuttle on Wikipedia, and all the articles indicate that the Space Shuttle fleet will be retired by 2010, with Atlantis retiring in 2008, Discovery in 2009, and Endeavour in 2010.

Exploring into the various articles about human spaceflight, reading about the old Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs, as well as Skylab, plus various Russian space programs like the various Soyuz craft, and the Buran program (the Russian space shuttle), and then looking at the articles about the US Space Shuttle, it got me thinking. I also looked at the articles about the Orion spacecraft program, which is NASA’s intended replacement for the Shuttle, which is based on Apollo spacecraft designs, with a “shuttle derived” launch vehicle. That also got me thinking, as the new launchers as I understand it have the solid rocket boosters and external fuel tank from the Space Shuttle, but with the stack having a much different look than the Space Shuttle.

The Shuttle-derived launch vehicles are really what got me thinking, and I had a realization. And that was that for my generation, NASA human spaceflight is the Space Shuttle. The first Shuttle, Enterprise, was used for handling tests four years before I was born. Then Columbia flew STS-1 in April 1981, while Mom was a little more than a month away from having me. Then I was four years old when Challenger blew up at the beginning of STS-51-L. I distinctly remember seeing news footage on TV of the incident, though I don’t remember if it was the live broadcast that I saw, or a replay. I just remember seeing the Shuttle stack disintegrate on TV. Then I remember hearing about when STS-26 took off and landed, as NASA’s post-Challenger return-to-flight mission.

Then after that was what I consider the “golden age” of the Shuttle program, right up until STS-107, where Columbia disintegrated during reentry. I remember that day well. It was a Saturday at JMU, and Mom had come up to visit. In fact, we took this picture of James Madison and I that day.

Since the return to flight last year, I’ve been following the program closely, paying good attention to every mission.

It’s just interesting that while my parents’ generation had all of these different types of spacecraft, for my generation, the Space Shuttle itself embodies human spaceflight for America. It’s been referenced in so many ways. The last episode of Power Rangers Turbo shows four Power Rangers plus Alpha 6 boarding a space shuttle and going after Divatox. Of course, they wouldn’t have gotten very far, since the Shuttle’s not designed to go beyond low Earth orbit. Then on The Simpsons (Deep Space Homer), Homer went into space aboard the Corvair shuttle. Then my sister had a Barbie and the Rockers video, and in that video, they boarded a pink space shuttle with “Barbie” written on the side of it. Then on Home Improvement, the crews of STS-61 and STS-73 were interviewed on Tool Time.

It will just be so strange to see the Shuttle retired in a few years. So many years in service, and for my generation, the winged craft known as the Space Shuttle really is all we know…

Space Shuttle Atlantis landing
Photo: NASA

Web site: Enterprise at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia. I really ought to go up there some time to see that...

Song: Theme to Roseanne (I'm watching N@N)

Quote: And don't get me wrong - as much as I'll miss the Space Shuttle, I do find the new spacecraft NASA is developing to be pretty exciting, as we'll once again have a craft that will be designed to leave low Earth orbit and go back to the Moon, etc. Though I still see it as a shame that the Shuttle will be retired, as it could possibly still be useful beyond 2010…

Categories: Space