Prepare for lift-off – Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-135

Posted By on July 7, 2011

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As we wait for the final scheduled liftoff of Shuttle Atlantis and STS-135 on Friday (weather postponement likely), I am of mixed emotion. As a child when the United States began its race to the moon, exploration of space was a pivotal part of being an American. As a tax paying citizen, the expense of a government orchestrated space program is something that is hard to justify.

As NASA’s idolized Apollo program and it’s hero astronauts gave way to a less glamorous Space Shuttle “orbiter” program, the citizens of our nation seem lost the lofty goal. We were no longer beating the Russians to the moon, but doing less intriguing science experiments in space (“intriguing” at least for the everyday man). Besides being much more commonsense utilitarian and reusable craft, the Shuttle also proved to be budget busting expensive. For many, this short mission orbiting science base and handing dandy pickup truck to space was pretty costly. The NASA shuttle budget seen as merely building an aging International Space Station was not nearly as inspirational as the challenge of landing a man on the moon. Even as an advocate for NASA and the shuttle program, I find it difficult to justify borrowing 40 cent of every dollar in order to continue deficit funding the shuttle program when we can no long fund necessities and obligations?

A little history

The space shuttle fleet had its first launch on April 12, 1981 and starting with Columbia. NASA added additional shuttles Challenger, Discovery, space_shuttleAtlantis and Endeavour and has had 134 missions to date; the final scheduled for July 8, 2011 – returning on the 20th. The reusable spacecrafts have launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. Thousands of workers have advanced technologies and set goals of further space exploration. The missions were not without danger … as there were dark days for those of the Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. Still the utilitarian capability of the shuttles and crews enable work outside of our atmosphere to continue. Here’s a brief summary of the NASA shuttle program’s missions.

Atmospheric test flights

Enterprise made 5 flights between Aug 12, 1977 and Oct 26, 1977

Space flights and missions

Columbia made 28 flights from STS-1 on Apr 12, 1981 until the reentry disaster of STS-107 Jan 16, 2003

Challenger make only 10 flights from STS-6 on Apr 04, 1983 to exploding shortly after launch of STS-51-L on Jan 28, 1986

Discovery a total of 39 from STS-41-D on Aug 30, 1984 until STS-133 Feb 24, 2011

Atlantis currently has 32 flights (with one to go) starting with STS-51-J on Oct 03, 1985 until STS-132 May 14, 2010

Endeavour made 25 flights starting with STS-49 May 07, 1992 until STS-134 on May 16, 2011

All total, the shuttle program has had 134 missions (one schedule to go) and has flow a total of 1316d 19h 24m 43s logging 20,958 orbits of the earth. For those not sharp with mental math, that over a half a billion miles!

Comments

  • Enjoyed watching the launch from home today. It was a bittersweet moment understanding how bloated the NASA shuttle budget is at a time we are running huge deficits and are expanding our debt, but just another peg lower in the “proud to be an American” ladder. We can only hope politicians get a handle on their drunken spending and that an inspirational leader like Ronald Reagan triggers a rebound both economically and in American eexceptionalism.

    • We were here in person – and it was an amazing experience. Very thankful I was able to cross it off my bucket list, but I agree 100% on the bittersweet comment. You could really feel the emotion in the crowd.

Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.