02/24/2011: The Final Voyage of the Shuttle Discovery
Today, quite possibly, will go down in history as being a somber day. The last day for a dream of a child to have been realized, and the first day of the end. Today, at 4:50pm Eastern, the NASA orbiter shuttle Discovery launched for the last time.
Construction started in 1979, and was completed with its maiden voyage, STS-41D on August 30th 1984. Over the course of its life time, Discovery will have made 11 voyages into the outer reaches of the Earths atmosphere, including several milestone missions:
- STS-41D, Maiden Flight
- STS-51D, First flight of a US Congressman, Jake Garn (R-Utah)
- STS-26, return to space after the Challenger disaster of 1986
- STS-31, Launch of Hubble Space Telescope
- STS-92, 100th Space Shuttle mission
- STS-114, return to space after the Columbia disaster of 2003
STS-133, scheduled to launch today, will mark the final mission for the shuttle Discovery. From this point, the shuttle will be retired. STS-134, which is scheduled to launch in April will be the final mission for the space shuttle Endeavour. STS-135, which is scheduled to launch in June of 2011, will mark the final space shuttle Mission, and retire the shuttle Atlantis. That’s it. No more. A child’s dream will never be realized.
But hope prevails. I may still one day go to space, be it never on a NASA shuttle. The evolution of the private sector as shown that perhaps space flight is still within our generations reach. I don’t mean my parents generation. I don’t mean the boomer’s. I mean the generation that confesses to being hopeless. Generation X. Us children of the late 70’s, and 80’s, who were raised watching the shuttle launches with true childlike wonder. Who long for those days of amazement again.
So, with a sense of regret, I ask the rest of the Watch Play Read staff to share their comments on the life and times of the NASA Space Shuttle program, and perhaps specifically of the shuttle Discovery.
I think that the shuttle Discovery should go down in history as one of the greatest man made inventions. A vehicle that changed the world. I mean, on a level with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Or The Beagle. Or perhaps more currently, Opportunity and Spirit. The Discovery helped to change what we knew about the Universe with the launch of the Hubble Telescope. Helped us TWICE stand up and say, “I’m not afraid to try again!” after the tragic destruction of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles.
I always dreamed of sitting in the cockpit of the shuttle during a launch. It’s something that we will never experience. I always wanted to take my child to go see the shuttle launch, and alas that looks to be something I won’t experience either.
But to me Discovery lived up to its name. It helped to bring us into an age where we could deepen our understanding of the Universe without the fear of reprisal that prior generations had experienced.
What nerdy kid wasn’t awed by the Space Shuttle program? I had my share of NASA-licensed toys and I still have this awesome space shuttle toy from back then. NASA was a place of wonder, where awesome people went to do awesome things. I had the VHS set of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and watched that over and over again.
All that being said, I remember being in 11th grade and watching Columbia break up live on television, and I think that’s when I realized that space travel was, for the most part, the stuff of legends. Sure, we can put people in orbit for a while, but in the end, I’m never going to get up there. Not that I’m disinterested in space or the science of the universe anymore, I still find that stuff fascinating… but I’ll never get up there. And that kind of sucks.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to think.
The shuttle program obviously has it’s flaws, but NASA is essentially moving to private enterprise to do any further space exploration. While that in itself is pretty damn cool because that just means competition will breed better, faster fleets and what everyone is really hoping for, a chance to go into space that much sooner.
I always was the kid (and still am) who wanted to go to space camp and have always been in love with outer space. I remember sitting in science classes watching a shuttle launch or really getting into lessons that involved space. I never have been able to take my love to the next level though, I’ve always wanted to get a fancy telescope so that I could do star gazing, and be able to look up in the sky and find constellations.
I’m sad to see budget cuts effectively are killing the NASA space program, one of the things I thought Bush did right was telling them to go back to the moon before 2020 and plan a Mars trip sooner than later. If you want the innovations, technology, and pure awesome things that you now use in your daily lives, you probably owe it to NASA that you have them.