The End is Nigh, Dear Shuttle.

For as long as I’ve been alive the United States has only had one vehicle capable of taking members of the human race into space: the Shuttle. I’ve been aware of it for almost as long as I can remember but my passion for it and all things space was only sparked a mere 2 years ago. You can imagine then my reaction when I found out that the Shuttle was soon to be retired and the rage I experienced when I saw how short sighted the USA’s plans were for its replacement. All these emotions came rushing back to me today when I stumbled across this article:

The end is beginning for NASA’s three aging space shuttles, with just five more missions on tap this year before the orbiter fleet retires in the fall.

That is, unless NASA needs a few more months to fly those remaining missions or President Barack Obama chooses to extend the shuttle program to fill a looming gap in U.S. human spaceflight capability.

Though the ultimate path forward for NASA has not yet been decided, the space agency is at a turning point after nearly 29 years of shuttle flight.

It’s really no surprise to anyone but when a program that has been running for almost 30 years is in its final stages with only 5 more launches to go it really starts to hit home. I grew up in a world where the Shuttle was a testament to the human desire to push our boundaries to limits that mere decades before would have thought impossible. The shuttle program has been running for 4 more years than I have been alive and whilst I couldn’t be there to see the first launch in person, you can guarantee that I’ll be there to see the last. It will truly be the end of an era for all of mankind.

Whilst I might be saddened by the decommissioning of the current icon of space I take solace in the fact that the next generation of explorers are more than ready to take over. With companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX proving that the same results can be achieved with a fraction of the resources required I can help but have my heart soar ever time I hear the smallest detail about them. It is they who will bring space travel to the everyman and the closing of the Shuttle era is only the beginning of the private space revolution.

2010 is going to be a bittersweet year for all the space nuts out there but we know what the payoff will be. I’m looking forward to making my first trip onto American soil to witness the raw beauty of a Shuttle launch and visit the Smithsonian to witness the history of humanity’s endeavours in aeronautics. I get choked up just watching the launches on Youtube, and I know I’ll be a mess when I see it for real and for the last time ever.

Unless Obama extends the Shuttle’s life, which will excite and annoy me all at the same time 😉

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