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Current News, Features, Writer: Caitlin

To Infinity, And Beyond!

NASA.

What comes to your mind when you read that? Is it space or Earth? Maybe rockets or stars? For many, it might be science; but for me, it’s all of these and more.

I’m sure most of you know that NASA put the first man on our moon, and that they’re the leading space experts. However, if you’ve paid attention to the news, you may also know that they’ve ended an era of amazing events: shuttle launches.

After 30 years of launches, the 135th mission was also the last. The space shuttle Atlantis launched from the Kennedy Space Center on the 8th of July 2011, as the final NASA shuttle launch. But before we go into detail on the mission, let’s take a look at NASA’s history.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

One of the most noted achievements of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was the Apollo program; or more specifically, Apollo 11, the objective of which was to successfully land a manned module on the moon’s surface, then return to Earth with the crew alive. Launched on the 16th of July 1969, the module landed in the Sea of Tranquility four days later. On the 21st of July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to ever step foot on the moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin moments later. It was Armstrong who uttered the famous line:

“That’s one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.”

However, the Apollo program never used any shuttles. The only reason it’s in this article is because it was NASA’s first globally-acknowledged achievement. While putting a man on the moon was once thought inconceivable, it was done, fulfilling President John F. Kennedy‘s statement in 1961 – “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Just the act of a man stepping onto the lunar surface, and returning home safely, proves that what we deem “impossible” may not be so.

In October of 1968, early space shuttle design studies began at NASA. These were called “Phase A”. Almost two years later – July 1970 – “Phase B” was introduced, containing more detailed and specific design studies. It took a total of nearly four years for the materials and designs to be selected, and since then, they haven’t changed much. The Shuttle Program was formally launched on the 5th of January 1972, when President Nixon publicly announced that NASA would attempt to develop a reusable Space Shuttle system.

After much work, the first complete orbiter was finished; originally named Constitution, it was soon redubbed Enterprise after a write-in campaign from Star Trek fans. The stunning piece of manufacturing was revealed on the 17th of September 1976, and later conducted validation tests to prove whether the design was acceptable or not. However, the Enterprise was a prototype, of sorts, and was never actually launched. Built in California, and delivered to the Kennedy Space Center on the 25th of March 1979, the shuttle orbiter Columbia was the first fully functional craft. A little over two years later, a major historic event took place.

STS-1 Columbia, with a crew of two, was launched from KSC. The date was the 12th of April 1981, exactly 20 years after the first man entered space. During the next four years, three more shuttles were delivered to KSC. Unfortunately, only two of the original four crafts still exist.

Challenger, delivered in July 1982, was launched on the 28th of January 1986, but burned up during ascent, ending the lives of all seven astronauts on board. To replace Challenger, the spare parts intended for the other orbiters were used to build Endeavour. The new shuttle was delivered in May 1991, and launched a year later. On the 1st of February 2003, Columbia disintegrated during re-entry; much like in the case of the Challenger, all seven crew members were killed in the disaster. The Columbia was never replaced.

Columbia

As of this year, all three of NASA’s remaining operational shuttles are retired. The first to be removed from active duty was Discovery, followed by Endeavour. Atlantis ran the final mission in the program, and upon returning to Earth and being made suitable, it will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
Discovery will be delivered to the Udvar-Hazy Center (National Air and Space Museum) near Washington D.C, and Endeavour will be on display at the California Science Center in California.
Enterprise (the test orbiter) is currently displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center, but is scheduled to be moved to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City.

For those of you who are interested, the command module from Apollo 11 (man on the moon) is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C, though in a different exhibit to the space-suits worn by Armstrong and Aldrin. The quarantine trailer, flotation collar and righting spheres from Apollo 11 are viewable at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

30 years, 135 missions, and 5 space craft after the initial shuttle launch, we have come to the end of a revolutionary era.

30 years, 135 missions, and 5 space craft after the initial shuttle launch, we have come to the end of a revolutionary era. We have put men on the moon, and we have photographed the surfaces of other planets. We have explored our solar system, and created amazing technology in order to do all of these. What will NASA do next? Create a new type of space craft capable of transporting humans, perhaps? Or maybe they’ll leave the space exploration and start producing household electrical items. We won’t know until we’re told, but we can be sure that they’ll always remain pioneers of space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.

[NASA are, in fact, continuing explorations and developments; they currently have a robotic space craft en route to Pluto. It has briefly studied Jupiter (Feb 28th 2007), orbit of Saturn (June 8th 2008) and orbit of Uranus (March 18th 2011). Estimated flyby of Pluto is July 14th 2015, after which the craft will continue past the dwarf planet into the Kuiper belt (a theoretical asteroid belt extending over a majority of our solar system).]

By Caitlin, YouthPressUK Journalist.

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