Space Shuttle’s Final Mission Successfully Completed
Future Of American Space Exploration Unclear
The photo you see here, which was scanned to digital by the Los Angeles Times, was taken on January 5th, 1972, when President Nixon and NASA Administrator Dr. James Fletcher met to discuss the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system. That same day, the president announced the space shuttle program to the world. Six shuttles would be built – five operational shuttles and one test vehicle. Over the years, these shuttles would be used to build the space station, revitalize the Hubble telescope, and make a 77-year-old John Glen the oldest person ever in space. (He was also the first American to Orbit the Earth, back in 1962. He turned 90 last week).
Built in 1981, the space shuttle Atlantis became NASA’s longest-running vehicle in the history of NASA’s space exploration. Last week, NASA’s 30-year shuttle program came to an end when Atlantis (and four astronauts) returned from the shuttle’s final journey to and from the International Space Station. Thousands packed into Kennedy Space Center to witness the shuttle’s final touchdown. More than 2,000 people gathered at the landing strip, where the shuttle’s triumphant return was met by cheers and tears all around.
The event represented the end of an era for NASA, which has no plans for a new manned spaceflight program at this time. It is expected that NASA will attempt to send a manned vehicle to Mars sometime this century, but the journey is not yet feasible given current technological limitations. The next time Americans are launched into space from U.S. soil, it will be as part of a private program; several independent companies are in the process of developing Earth-to-orbit flight programs, but they are at least three to five years out. It is expected that some of these companies will offer transport into space for civilians willing to pay the astronomical price-tag (pun intended).
Of the six shuttles built since the NASA’s program began, two were tragically lost to accidents (the Challenger and the Columbia), killing a total of 14 crew members. The other four shuttles will now be retired to museums, where they can take their place in the history of spaceflight. To see a collection of Los Angeles Times space shuttle photos that have been scanned to digital, visit Los Angeles Times.