Monday, July 11, 2011

Godspeed, Atlantis

via Geekosystem
I wanted to make sure to post some pictures and the video of the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. This past Friday July 8th at 11:29 am the last American space shuttle to travel to space left on its final journey. The 135 shuttle flight, and the 33rd for Atlantis, the flight marks the end of the entire space shuttle program. The YouTube video can't be embedded, but you can watch it here on the NASA YouTube channel and here are also a few pictures to highlight some of the great moments:

Getting ready! via Geekosystem
Firing up the engines! via Geekosystem
Liftoff! via Geekosystem
There she goes! via Geekosystem
Atlantis, flight STS-135, is commanded by Chris Ferguson, and will take fellow crewmates Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim to the International Space Station. The launch took place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The 12-day mission will bring the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module with more than 8,000 pounds of supplies and space parts to the space station to sustain it after the last space shuttle is retired.

On a personal level I find it amazing that the space shuttle program is over. I have never known a time in my life where Americans were not traveling to space. When I was little the first thing I ever wanted to be was an astronaut. It shocks me that astronaut isn't really a job anymore, at least not at NASA. Sure, there are other countries that will still be traveling to and from the International Space Station (Russia and China) but its just not the same as having an American space program. 

I appreciate the need to focus on new frontiers in space and wanting to move in a new direction, but I am pretty disappointed that there isn't a successor to the space shuttle program already lined up. I think its dangerous to give up our hold on space travel and research to focus on programs and initiatives that don't really exist yet. I'm worried that space exploration will become another casualty of a lack of vision, appreciation, and long term planning that seems to plague this country. Especially if the proposed budget for NASA which I wrote about over on Geekosystem ($2 billion in cuts!) is any indication of what the future holds. 

I wish that I had appreciated the space shuttle program more while it was running. How many shuttle launches have you watched? How much do you know about what the shuttle program accomplished? Honestly, I can hang my head in shame and say not many and not much. Its too late to lament what we've already lost, but I think we can see the end of the space shuttle program as a warning to take more interest in some of the amazing research programs the government funds. If we don't show the government that these things matter to us, we're going to lose them all. 

So Godspeed Atlantis, the launch was amazing and as an American I am so proud of the shuttle program  and our astronauts. I've felt for a long time that there are simply no heroes anymore, but for the six-year-old in me that wanted nothing more than to go to outer space I think our astronauts are the real deal.

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