NASA’s last shuttle space flight will take place next week and will mark the end of a pioneering adventure story that brought magnificent highs and terrible lows, writes Science Editor Dick Ahlstrom in today's Irish Times.
THE HUMAN adventure in space is about to lose much of its razzmatazz. July 8th sees the lift-off of the space shuttle Atlantis, the very last shuttle flight to be made.
Its departure on a 12-day trip to the International Space Station (ISS) brings to a close 30 years of space-shuttle travel and marks the beginning of an uncertain future for manned space flight.
The shuttle programme has brought us tremendous highs, watching as space-walking astronauts carried out essential running repairs to the wonderful Hubble Space Telescope, or as the shuttle’s robot arm manoeuvred another chunk of the space station into place.
It also brought us the deepest lows, with the loss of the shuttles Challenger and Columbia and the deaths of 14 flight crew. They died invisibly, far overhead, but the cameras rolled, allowing us watch as the reality of loss overwhelmed the horrified crews’ family members.
One could argue that the second great age of manned space travel comes to a close as Atlantis finally touches down. This was the age of the reusable space workhorse, a vehicle carried aloft by rocket but able to land like an airplane.