30 Years

by Geoff on April 13, 2011

Human spaceflight got a lot of attention yesterday. Not only was it the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight, the first time a human went into space, but the day marked the 30th anniversary of the first launch of NASA’s Space Transportation System, the Space Shuttle (Columbia, to be exact). Below the following commentary, I have some details and links on some of yesterday’s news stories.

Before I get to my thoughts on the Space Shuttles and their retirement, a couple paragraph’s on Yuri’s flight…

Yuri’s Day

Man Enters SpaceYuri Gagarin’s flight was not just a milestone; his flight marked the beginning of human spaceflight, much like the Wright Brothers’ flights marked the beginning of human flight in general.  Sputnik may have started the countdown to the space race, but Yuri’s flight lit the space race’s boosters aflame for what would be a while 8 years leading to man’s first steps on the moon.

Check out this great video showing, with footage shot from the International Space Station, a minute-for-minute account of what it was like for Yuri on his flight.

Space Shuttle

Since being selected for the NASA Tweetup for the STS-134 launch, the final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour, I’ve been what I can only describe as mourning the Shuttle. I was born in 1980, just a little over a year before STS-1. For much of my life, NASA and the Space Shuttle have been one and the same. As a child and, to some extent, even now, I have idealized the Space Shuttle. And why not – she is a beautiful craft. From her launch atop the large fuel tank and powerful solid rocket boosters until her peaceful landing, she soars unlike any other spacecraft.

Shuttle Tile InstallEach Space Shuttle launch requires a tremendous amount of preparation. By every account, the thousands of Space Shuttle workers are as proud of the shuttles as anybody and take great pride in their work. I envy them: not just because they have worked on the Space Shuttle, but because they have contributed to a program so extraordinary and unique, we are likely to never see anything like it.

So, I am mourning the impending loss of this icon of spaceflight. I will miss seeing her stacked and perched upon the launchpad (via pics/videos, at least). I will miss the iconic black and white color scheme and the incredible sight of the thousands of individual black, heat-resistant tiles that protect her, each tile painstakingly applied by shuttle workers.

I hope that whatever craft next symbolizes human spaceflight at NASA is able to capture the minds of today’s kids to the same extent that the Space Shuttle has captivated me for almost 30 years.

Shuttle Cutaway

Today’s Shuttle News and Links

Locations getting a shuttle after the fleet is retired (NASA’s page with full details):

Videos related to today’s Shuttle news:

  • From NASA:  The Space Shuttle, narrated by William Shatner [ HD Version ] – This new 14 minute video from NASA is a great recap of what it has taken to keep the shuttle flying for 30 years.  It pays great tribute to the many shuttle workers over the last 40 years (including design/construction).
  • From NASA:  Launch of STS-1, the first Space Shuttle mission
  • From NASA:  NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s speech today commemorating the 30th anniversary of the shuttle’s first flight. Bolden also announces where the shuttles will live out their retirement.  Bolden flew on three shuttles himself, and it’s clear this was a hard day for him as he likely informed several locations that they would not be getting one of the shuttles.

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