Atlantis lands, Shuttles retired, NASA’s next mission is… what?

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Space Shuttle Atlantis lands at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the pre-dawn hours of July 21, 2011.  42 years and one day after Apollo 11’s Eagle landed on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, the last shuttle to fly touches down on KSC’s runway 15.

It’s appropriate that this image shows the shuttle touching down in the dark, because the United States now has no manned access to space.

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End of an era: Last Shuttle launch

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An era ends.  The last Space Shuttle lifted four astronauts and tons of supplies into the Florida sky today, enroute to the International Space Station.  The first Shuttle launch, of Columbia, occurred on April 12, 1981.  That launch was a mere 20 years to the day after the first manned space flight, by Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union.  In those 20 years, we went from the first dangerous launches on modified ICBM rockets, to the Saturn 5 that took us to the Moon six times, to the “space truck” that is the Shuttle.  The last Shuttle mission, flown by Shuttle Atlantis, is scheduled to land on July 20, the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing at the Sea of Tranquility on the Moon.

Once Atlantis lands, the United States has NO way of launching astronauts into space.  We hope to have private industry doing so “soon”, but that “soon” could be a decade away.  In the meantime, we buy rides on the Russian Soyuz.  “TAXI!”

 

Shuttle Geek: The Last Rollout

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Photo: NASA

The last rollout. Space Shuttle Atlantis heads for the launch pad. This will be the last launch of the program.  After this, if an American astronaut needs to get into space, he’ll have to hitch a ride with the Russians.  The USA will not have a manned launch vehicle for many years into the future.  Not the best planning, for a people that went from modified ICBMs to men on the Moon in ten years.

In Honor of Geek Week

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This is Geek Week on the Rachel Maddow show, so in honor of that, and of the recent STS-132 mission, here’s a picture of Atlantis docked at the International Space Station as it transits across the Sun!

Picture from “Bad Astronomy”.

Last Flight of the Shuttle Atlantis

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Space Shuttle Atlantis Photo Credit NASA

As of this writing, the Space Shuttle Atlantis sits on the pad at Kennedy Space Center Florida, ready for today’s liftoff on a mission to the International Space Station.  Barring any last-minute reprieves, this will be Atlantis’ last flight.  After this mission,  Orbiter OV-104,  first flown in 1985,  will be removed from service as NASA retires the Shuttle fleet.  There are only a few more flights remaining in the construction of the International Space Station, and once those flights are done, the shuttle program will be ended.  The orbiters will be safed, and shipped off to various museums and institutions for display.

Once the last Space Shuttle lands sometime in 2011, the United States will have no manned access to space.  While there is an impressive list of rockets in NASA’s fleet, once the Shuttles are retired, American astronauts will only be able to go into space on the rockets of other nations, primarily Russia.

Essentially, the only way for the United States to access it’s Space Station is to hail a cab.

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