For today NASA has scheduled the final mission of the Space Shuttle launching the last flight into space of the now 30 year old shuttle program. The mission STS-135, will be a a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. It will use the Atlantis space shuttle and carry a crew of four and the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module containing supplies and spare parts for the space station. The STS-135 astronauts are: Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim.
Image taken from cnet / The space shuttle on the launch pad, being prepared for the mission.
Atlantis is scheduled to take off at 11:26 a.m. ET today, weather permitting, on NASA's final shuttle mission after three decades and more than 130 flights, with a landing at the Kennedy Space Center set for July 20. If Atlantis misses its launch window on Friday, there are additional opportunities to launch on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when the chances for favourable weather increase to around 40% and 60% respectively. If the delay continues after that, the next window for launch is likely to be Saturday 16 July.
The space shuttle mission started back in 1972 and opened an aera with the launch of the Columbia in 1981. The program was troubled by its cost, a reckoned $198.6 billion. With a total of 134 mission, This is about $1.4 billion per flight.
THe retirement of the shuttle came as a result of political vision and games with former President Bush announcing changes in the NASA targets aiming to launch a new program to send astronauts back to the moon. The retirement of the shuttle was part of the plan to free up cash within the NASA for these visions. The program was however by President Obama scraped as it was already running out of hand in terms of cost and timing. Currently there seems to be not really a plan for what comes next. The current political climate could maybe even feature a privat provider of space explorations being involved. A number of commercial space missions are in planning, with the Vigin Galactic being only one of them.
Image taken from dailygalaxy / Hubble looking at distant nebula.
The dimensions of the whole Space Shuttle program were massive. Not only in terms of cost but also in terms of staff and vision. The conquest of space is a old dream fueled by global rivalry and politics since the early fifties of the last century. The Space Shuttle program was a bold statement taking the mission on a next level by basing it on reusable technology as opposed to the one way missions launched earlier.
As the Guardian n puts it: "The failures of the shuttle could easily eclipse the programme's achievements. But aficionados point to a long list of triumphs. The shuttle hauled three of Nasa's four "great observatories" into orbit – the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Chandra X-ray Observatory."
Above all the shuttle enabled the building of the International Space Station. A massive structure for longer space mission and extensive experiments. A controversial project, it has a decade to prove its worth as an orbiting science lab. With a price tag of $100bn, that is a tall order, but if nothing else, the station taught astronauts how to build complex structures in space. This might be something to prove of value in the future depending on the projects for future missions.
Certainly the Space Shuttle has contributed a lot to the identification of millions with space missions and is a beloved symbole for technology and achievement. It establishes a connection beyond earth, projecting into space. Thus opening the lid on a experiment in to dimensions far reaching firmly putting human kind into relations.
Looking back at Charles and Ray Eames famous power of ten movie from 1977, it becomes clear what the sort of dimension are the Space Shuttle program has unleashed. The dimensions of the actual flight might not be very special, but the outreach of the programs and missions launched from the shuttle are. LIke the Hubble telescope and several spacecraft hitched a ride into orbit on the shuttle before embarking on their onward journeys. The Galileo probe went to Jupiter, Magellan mapped Venus and the European Space Agency's Ulysses spacecraft conducted the first survey of the sun's environment.
Putting the dimension in place is one way of starting to get to grips with the scale. Some interactive versions extend on the Power of 10 idea making it possible to link in by allowing interaction and jumping between the scales and references. Nikon has in 2005 put together a really nice online version of such an interactive scale comparison called Universcale.
Image taken from brainpicking / Screen shot of the Nikon Univescale web app. Click to have a play.
The Atlantis has successfully left earth and is on its mission, expected to dock at the International Space Station on Sunday. It will be a 12 day mission.
Image taken from NASA / The space shuttle Atlantis leaving the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 11:29 a.m. EDT.