Today marked the end of an era for manned spaceflight, as the first of the operational shuttles has been retired by the NASA Space Shuttle Program. Discovery landed at Dulles International Airport today after a memorable flight over Washington, D.C.. The Smithsonian Institutes' National Air and Space Museum will welcome the well-used shuttle into their exhibit.
Eyes were on the sky in Washington as the flight granted spectators a final view of the shuttle in flight, piggybacked on a modified Boeing 747.
|Photo by blogger MarekFloryda|
NASA created a Flickr for those lucky enough to be along Discovery's flight path and have taken photos.
Space Shuttle Discovery was first introduced to the public in October 1983, and left for it's maiden voyage on August 30, 1984. The shuttle landed successfully back on Earth for the final time March 9, 2011. After spending a cumulative year in space, over 39 missions, it's position as NASA's Orbital Flight leader has finished.
Discovery Notable Facts
- Third operational orbiter (after Columbia and Challenger)
- Flew the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit
- Has deployed a further 30 satellites
- Flew over 238,539,663 km during service
The interior of the shuttle will not be available to museum-goers once the exhibit is open. However, you can explore the flight deck here:
While this is a disappointing day for space enthusiasts, it is certainly not a sign of the end of space discoveries. Many feel that NASA and space exploration progress has slowed to a point that it is in danger of regressing backwards.
NASA plans to resume manned spaceflight in 2017. NASA's Mars Missions will hopefully continue in 2018 with another rover mission.
But new, private ventures into space are emerging, and may provide answers and opportunities in the present.
My own current state, New Mexico, is at the forefront of space transportation. Spaceport America is currently developing launch vehicles as the world's first commercial spaceport. Owned by the state and its people, this space launch facility is designed to with customers in mind, as well as attempting to inspire visitors. Since dedication in October 2010, the spaceport has successfully launched several vertical rockets. Most recently, the 10th launch reached the highest altitude on record for the facility.
Additionally, Virgin Galactic has entered a 20-year contract with Spaceport America, with the spaceport serving as headquarters. Virgin Galactic's space vehicles have already taken over the skies with their WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles. Over 500 people have signed up to take flights into space. Including lucky number 500, Ashton Kutcher.
New Mexico further aides in space-related progress through the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC). New Mexico State University (where I currently am attaining my Masters degree) is the lead institution for this program, which aims to support students in multiple disciplines with a united interest in aeronautics, space, and related fields.
This PayPal funded company hopes to pick up where NASA budget cuts left off. SpaceX aims to develop launch vehicles that ultimately reduce cost and increase viability of space access. The jewel of the space fleet vehicles is Dragon, a free-flying craft designed for transport of (un)pressurized cargo and/or crew members. Dragon is scheduled to launch April 30 and will make history by docking with the International Space Station. While this flight is still considered a test, success would bring the company ever closer to becoming the first commercial carrier to deliver payloads.
Questions of The Day:
What are your hopes for the future of space exploration?