My last entry on this blog was about the 8th anniversary of STS-107, the Columbia disaster. Nearly every day for about 3 weeks after February 1st, I watched the video of the Flight Control team in Houston dealing with the tragedy as it unfolded. Every day I would watch this tragedy unfold and relive the horror that the flight controllers felt. It was not a good way to start my day, yet I chose to do so…
Then came the STS-133 mission. I geared up for the February 24th launch, watched it at work, nearly had a heart attack when the range went and stayed red, and loved seeing Discovery launch one final time. The launch was picture perfect, the flight was amazing, and the landing was essentially textbook, in fairly difficult conditions. Discovery landed at KSC at 1158 EST on March 9th and mission commander Steve Lindsey called “Wheels Stop”, bringing Discovery’s final mission to a close.
The mission was flawless, the orbiter, boosters, and external tank performed excellently. The Space Shuttle system, while still experimental due to its small number of flights, is becoming mature and coming in to its own. There are only two flights remaining.
Why are we shutting down this program? Why are we taking this excellently functional, amazing hardware and turning them in to museum pieces. Why are we giving up our nation’s capacity to get humans into space without anything in the pipeline to re-acquire the capability to do so?
Admittedly, flying the shuttle is dangerous, probably more dangerous than any of the previous spacecraft that have been flown (with the exception of the Soviet Buran shuttle). Admittedly, the price per pound is high to get the shuttle and its cargo and crew into space, but no other spacecraft has the lift capability of the shuttle to get things into space.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about commercial space. I admire the folks working to create this capability in the commercial sector, and am proud that SpaceX is the first company to launch something into orbit, then de-orbit it and recover it safely. This is an amazing achievement and they should be praised for it. However, I don’t think our nation should give up the civil capacity to get people into space.
I’ve noted my complaints and rants. I’ve made my feelings known, and I’m still depressed about the end of the program. When I saw Discovery land watched the wheels stop and realized that y favorite orbiter will never be in space again, I cried. This line in this picture is the furthest she will ever travel on her own energy:
There are two Space Shuttle missions left. I will celebrate them and be happy when the crew comes home safely and the mission is completed. I’m going to stop what I’m doing and watch the launches, landings, and coverage of the missions. But when the program ends, I’m going to be very sad.