It is with sadness that I write about the last Space Shuttle mission, simply because I still remember the excitement that surrounded the first launch of the Shuttle by NASA back in 1981.
It’s the same sadness I felt when Concorde was put out of service, as it feels somewhat like it has happened prematurely. For both these amazing flying machines one of the principal reasons for their retirement has been safety after catastrophic accidents, and whilst I can completely understand why such decisions were ultimately made, it doesn’t stop the fact that the end of an era has come, and that feels like a shame to me.
In the case of the Space Shuttle, there were two big disasters. In 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger exploded only a minute or so after launch, whilst in 2003 Columbia was destroyed on re-entry, after suffering damage to one of the wings during launch. Hindsight seems to suggest that both of these disasters could have been avoided, particularly the Columbia mission where NASA refused to opportunity for the astronauts to take a space walk to inspect the sustained damage, and therefore perhaps be able to make some kind of repair.
The final Space Shuttle mission was carried out by Atlantis. Launched on July 8th 2011 it touched down back on Earth on July 21st. The purpose of the mission was to take supplies up to the International Space Station and return with some waste materials and components.
As a Child of the 1980’s, the Space Shuttle really came to embody what the idea of space travel meant to me. It’s design made it feel like something of the future when compared against the much older traditional rocket, yet the fact it actually existed and worked seems somehow remarkable. Indeed the realms of entertainment also made great use of the Shuttle for pretty much the same reason, as it never fails to conjure up a sense of awe.
So, farewell to Enterprise, Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Space missions just won’t be the same without you.