An era is over. Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) has launched. I have lived through the conception, inception, and now possibly the demolition of one of America’s finest “moments.” Expensive? Heck yeah. But we have taken for granted the basic fact of the space shuttle program along with the entirety of the space program, and thus have under-appreciated what it has contributed and meant to this country.
Once the source of national pride, the death of the shuttle program and overall de-emphasis of the space program has relegated us to sending our astronauts to the ISS on a Russian rocket. Russian! It was they whom we bested “way back when” and now we are, literally, in the back seat.
What has the shuttle program in particular represented? Try, the most amazing feats of mankind in understanding and using science. We cheer as a shuttle lifts off, but do we think about what is involved? 100,000 feet in altitude in about 1.5 minutes. Traveling approximately 15,000 mph after only a few minutes. Surviving in a cold vacuum for days, weeks and months.
How do you calculate the angle of trajectory required to reach orbit? How high must you go so as not to simply fall back to Earth? What is the escape velocity necessary to break free of Earth’s gravity? What IS gravity? What useful benefits have we gained from the space shuttle program?
More than 100 documented NASA technologies from the Space Shuttle are now incorporated into the tools you use, the foods you eat, and the biotechnology and medicines used to improve your health.
“We often take for granted the returns on NASA’s past investments:
Everything from global satellite telecommunications to disposable diapers are the result of our investment in space technology,” said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. “The mission of the Space Shuttle is no different. The program’s goal is to play a lead role in opening the space frontier, but it’s also about bringing the discoveries of the Space Shuttle into your home.”
via Space Shuttle Program Benefits Industry and Health. (http://www.fas.org/news/usa/2000/usa-001012.htm accessed 7/9/2011).
At a time when the U.S. is falling behind other countries, especially China and India, in the production of top-tier scientists programs like the space shuttle are important in stimulating interest in bright young students to develop them into the scientists and technicians of the future. Why is this important? Just look around you at the technology we use every day. From whence does that come? Cell phones, the internet, microwave ovens, computer-controlled emission systems in your car, GPS for everything from geocaching to aircraft instrument landing approaches, artery stints, high definition television, medicines, digital cameras, computers from desktops to laptops to tablets to smartphones, and more.
What will follow, and when?
- Helping space shuttles achieve liftoff (physorg.com)
- Thousands gather to watch last launch of Space Shuttle program (charlotte.news14.com)