Shuttle Atlantis launched today in what will be one of the last missions of the U.S. STS program. It's crew will install another piece of the ISS puzzle, while picking up Sunita Williams and dropping off Clayton Anderson.
NASA plans to retire the space shuttle by 2010, wanting to lift off 13-14 more times in three and a half years. I cannot help feeling a bit of nostalgia as I realize that this amazing piece of technology, that I consider the end-all in space travel technology for many years, is going to be retired soon. And it's successor is not the long promised X33 space-plane, but the 1960's technology in the form of a revamped, jumbo Apollo. I know that Apollo design worked, it took man to the moon and all that, but it is a 40 year old design! You would think that since the first space -shuttle mission (shuttle Columbia) in 1981, NASA engineers would have come up with a better design. But I guess this is just a fruit of the times we are living in. The President promises a man on the Moon again, and then to Mars, and then goes on to cut NASA research funding.
Now, I know that we are just trying to be money and resource conscious, and trying to play it safe with true, tried and tested technology, but I still miss the time when NASA was young and bold, and would show off and one-up the Russians with technological breakthroughs regardless of cost. I caught the tail end of that space age, wounded by the Challenger catastrophe in 1986, and dead on Saturday, February 1, 2003, with the tragic death of the crew of the Columbia.
I just hope that the “wow” factor that NASA has lost, is picked up by privately enterprises such as Scaled Composites, or SpaceX, even if their ultimate goal is boring but profitable space tourism, and not the exciting science oriented NASA space program.