America’s last Space Shuttle launch is scheduled for today (barring bad weather). Like many others, I’ll be watching it on NASA TV online. This mission, STS-135, will be the end of 30 years of shuttle flights.
The first functional shuttle, Columbia, launched in 1981 for orbital tests, and operational launches began in 1982. Since then, there have been 134 shuttle flights, with only 2 losses – the Challenger in 1986 during launch, and the Columbia in 2003 during reentry – both with all crew members lost.
There is no replacement in place, and there are no solid plans for any replacement to be built. After this mission, the US space program will be dependent on other nations for manned missions – ironically, we will be dependent mainly on Russia, our main rival in the original space race.
Now is the time for American private industry to step up and fill NASA’s shoes. Hopefully, we will again be sending humans into space on American spacecraft within the next decade.
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