September 1, 2011

The Last Space Shuttle Flight

As the shuttle program comes to an end, the future of space travel is going private.

Justin: The blazing lift off; a space shuttle has always been a sight to see. From its first launch back in April 1981 to its final one last July.

“And liftoff the space shuttle Atlantis.”

Justin: But now, they are just memories. As nasa prepares to move on, but not away from its outer-space ambitions, space exploration is not going to be shutting down.

It is growing, if anything, right?

“As much as we love the shuttle, the fact is what’s important is not so much the car that we take to go on the trip, it’s that we take the trip. I mean, we really have to keep that in mind. As much as we can be a shuttle-hogger – we love the shuttle – it’s that we’re taking those space exploration trips and we’re going and doing the scientific exploration.”

Justin: That is what is important.

NASA built six shuttle orbiters over three decades. First, the Enterprise, used only for testing. Then Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. Each is a master multitasker; part space plane, part laboratory, and part freight carrier. For example, part of Endeavour’s last mission was to carry this huge satellite into orbit. It is called the AMS and weighs about five tons. Its mission: to study the origins of the universe. AMS will help us see things we never could. The orbiters measure more than 120 feet, about one-third the length of a pro-football field. They can also carry as much as 50,000 pounds.

Over the years, they have transported satellites, experiments, and the building blocks of the international space station: a giant, outer space lab so big it can sometimes be seen from Earth. The space station was a key part of Atlantis’ last mission. Its crew provided the station crew with five tons of equipment and supplies, enough to last one whole year.

Despite its successes, the Shuttle Program has also faced setbacks, losing fourteen astronauts and two orbiters. In January, 1986, a fuel leak on a booster rocket caused the challenger to explode, killing all seven astronauts on board, including Christa McAuliffe, who was chosen to be the first teacher in space. Seventeen years later, the Columbia crew was killed when it disintegrated trying to return to Earth.

So, now that the Shuttle Program has ended, where will the orbiters go? Pretty soon, the Enterprise will go on display in New York City. The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. will be Discovery’s new home. The Endeavour is bound for the California Science Center in Los Angeles. And Atlantis will stay put at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

But what is also going away are jobs. Here is the letter. It is the pink slip. And it is not pink. Some 2,300 workers lost their jobs in July, when the Shuttle Program ended. On top of 4,300 other shuttle workers who were already jobless or let go.

And while the transition will be difficult, and rely heavily on private businesses to enter the space race, NASA officials see a bright future for space exploration.

“I think opening up space to commercial companies to get more people there, it’s great. It generates U.S. interest and it allows NASA to focus on the really hard stuff, exploring. Because we do have to learn how to live off our home planet. We want to know what’s out there. It’s in our destiny, it’s in our nature to explore to challenge the unknown and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Justin: Justin Finch, Channel One News.


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