Lee’s Summit, July 10, 2011– STS-135 roared off Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A, for the last flight of the Space Shuttle this week. I remember the first fight of Columbia on April 12, 1981. I was working at Essex Magnet Wire in Fort Wayne Indiana and Paul Justus (my boss at the time) brought in a small TV set to watch Columbia take off and two days later, on April 14, 1981 we watch it land.
Back in those days the main fuel tank was painted white. Later it was sent up with only a primer coat to reduce significant weight; weight that could be used for payload.
Columbia was the workhorse of the early days, until April 4, 1983 when Challenger launched for the first time in the mission known as STS-6 (Space Transportation System flight # 6). Challenger’s life was short, but the memory of what she stood for and the valor of those aboard her on January 28, 1986 will live on.
Discovery joined the fleet on August 30, 1984. Discovery was as much lighter craft with vast improvements over Enterprise, Columbia and Challenger. Engineers were able to reduce her weight by over 6,800 pounds.
Discovery has flown more missions to space (38 trips, 352 days in orbit, and circled the earth 5,628 times) than any of the other shuttles; it has taken more crew up (246 crew members), and it visited two space stations. If that’s not enough she took aloft the Hubble Space Telescope.
Discovery had the privilege to take John Glenn – the first man to ever orbit the earth – back into space: “God Speed, John Glen” still reverberates in the minds and hearts of Americans who watched him launch in that tiny capsule, and then return to space in the comparatively majestic Discovery Space Shuttle.
Atlantis, according to NASA, “was named after the two-masted boat that served as the primary research vessel for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts from 1930 to 1966. The boat had a 17-member crew and accommodated up to five scientists who worked in two onboard laboratories, examining water samples and marine life. The crew also used the first electronic sounding devices to map the ocean floor.”
She joined her sister space farers on October 3, 1985. In the first four years of the Space Shuttle we had gone from 1 orbiter to 4 and still one more was ready to come online. Those were the heady days when we all still stopped to watch the launch on Television and felt amazed at the things America, and only America had the leadership to do.
The final addition to the fleet was Endeavour. She was commissioned to take the workload left when the Challenger exploded shortly after take of in 1986. Endeavor was immediately tasked with the impossible, and she and her crew managed to make the impossible seem easy. Endeavour during STS-49 struggled to capture INTELSAT VI, an orbiting but not functioning communications satellite. The crew with help from the ground finally captured it, repaired it and sent it on its original mission.
In 1990 Discovery put up the Hubble Space Telescope, on April 24th. Yet the valuable telescope was myopic and needed corrective lenses. Endeavour went up in December 1993 to service and repair the Hubble. Discover did it again in 1997. In the first 7 years of the Hubble Space Telescope, critics would say the shuttle had to go fix it. I look at more pragmatically; in the first 7 years, we rescued a huge investment, improved it, and gained more science than we could have possibly imagined at the start of the program.
Hubble’s life expectancy increased significantly thanks to the Astronauts who made it possible to keep it alive, and to continue to improve it. Atlantis made the final service and repair mission to the telescope on May 11, 2009.
The shuttle also made it possible for the construction of the International Space Station where it docked today at 11:07 AM EDT. Atlantis may have one more challenge before her, as NASA is evaluating the trajectory of space debris (pieces of COSMOS 375) that can come dangerously close to the International Space Station and to Atlantis on her final mission.
To those who say that perhaps manned space flight is not necessary, I want to point out to them that if you’re reading this on the internet, on your mobile phone, you have the Space Program to thank for it, and the hundreds of men and women who’ve taken on the challenge of doing the difficult so that we all may benefit from it.
Yes, it is true and sad that people have died in the endeavor to bring science and technology to the world. Yet I’m certain that if you asked every one of them if they would do it all over again, I’m certain that they would say “Absolutely”.
Let me close with this 91 second video from the Shuttle Closeout team. It says far more than I could ever say.
Godspeed Atlantis, God Bless America!
The Lee’s Summit Conservative