by Randy Agness, Guest Journalist
On July 8th, the Atlantis STS 135 launch from Pad 39A will mark the end of an era. The space shuttle was the first true spaceship with the ability to launch, land, and re-use. Many reports indicate that the shuttles would have had nearly two more decades of expected service for launch missions and space travel; and, in essence, are being retired prematurely.
The Agency has already significantly reduced down the number of active astronauts to 61. NASA’s exit from manned space flight has already begun with sending both Discovery and Endeavour off to become museum exhibits. Upon its return, Atlantis will join these icons of space travel in that role.
Without a private option even close to being operational, (likely at least a decade away), the NASA astronauts will have to train in Star City at the Russian Space Agency. Then they will await the opportunity to reach the International Space Station by hitching an expensive ride on a Soyuz rocket. America’s most famous Astronaut and Statesman John Glenn explained in a recent CBS interview: “The concern is that without the space shuttle program and no feasible alternative ready, the United States may not return to manned space flight.”
In eliminating the means to travel to the International Space Station, we are also eliminating some of the best and brightest astronauts from NASA. “As far as money for NASA’s space flight budget,” John Glenn states, “ there’s always money … in the day, people complained about the cost of the Lewis and Clark expedition.”
In reality, NASA’s budget for the fiscal year 2011 is roughly $18.5 billion dollars or 0.5 percent, a mere fraction of the $3.7 trillion dollar Federal Budget. NASA, who employs approximately 19,000 civil servants and more than 40,000 sub-contractors, will begin furloughs at the completion of Atlantis’ 12 day mission.
Sadly, on the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s speech boldly challenging the nation to — “a journey unlike any before in human history — a journey to land on the moon and return safely,” NASA’s space shuttle program will come to an abrupt end. No longer will NASA be directing launches for manned space travel, but will primarily focus on satellite missions.
While American Apollo Astronauts were walking on the surface of the Moon, the budget for the space shuttle program was approved by an act of Congress. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan kicked off the space station program. Describing the event, Reagan said, “We are first, we are the best, and we are so because we’re free.”
Over the course of the space shuttle program, more than 300 astronauts have climbed aboard to crew Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Endeavour and Atlantis on their historic 135 space missions launching and repairing satellites, fixing the Hubble Telescope and building and supplying the International Space Station.
After 30 years, NASA Space Shuttle’s will have logged over 537 million miles covering more than 20,000 Earth orbits. The flight crew of four astronauts Ferguson, Hurley, Magnus and Walheim will be the last Americans to command a space mission to the International Space Station. Ponder this – without another Shuttle available for a rescue mission, if it became necessary, the Atlantis crew would be forced to remain on the International Space Station for up to one year.
Godspeed and Go Atlantis Go !!!