NASA’s Final Shuttle Launch
University of North Dakota
Anxiously awaiting the shuttle launch, the people at Cape Canaveral, Florida, were clearly exhilarated to see the last NASA shuttle launch for the indefinite future. The shuttle, which was scheduled to launch at 10:24 EST, was delayed around the 30 second mark, in order to ensure proper launch equipment retraction. Following the delay, however, the Shuttle successfully reached Earth’s sub-orbit.
At The University of North Dakota, professors from the School of Aerospace Sciences gathered to watch the final launch. The conclusion of the NASA shuttle program was described by Space Studies Associate Professor David Whalen.
When asked about the reasoning behind closing the shuttle program, Whalen, author of two books on the history of satellites and a veteran aeronautical engineer, responded, “it’s very old, it’s very expensive and there’s a decent probability of disasters. They built five and two of those were destroyed in disasters. It’s very inefficient and it costs in excess of a billion dollars [for each launch].”
Nonetheless, he described the launch as “wonderful science fair. It’s cool technology. They did put people into space on a regular basis.”
When a NASA space shuttle launches, the launching process is delicate. As soon as the shuttle is fueled with its cryogenic (extremely cold) fuel, it must be constantly refilled. The fuel evaporates out of the bottom of the shuttle, creating the visual image of “smoke.”
At launch, the fuel from the bottom of the rockets is ignited by a series of sparks, sustaining a prolonged reaction that launches the shuttle. After leaving the pad, the NASA shuttle directs itself upward for a brief period of time, rotates and then angles itself somewhat parallel to Earth. Compared to directly entering space, the process of indirect trajectory toward orbit reduces the pull of gravity on the shuttle.
Those in the aerospace field are worried about losing focus of the next frontiers. Whalen stated, “they started building the thing in the ‘60s so when they started designing the shuttles, they were using ‘50s technology. The worst thing here is that there’s no plan for what’s next. At the end of Mercury, we had a gap before Gemini came along and then [a gap before] Apollo, but in each case we knew what was next.”
Giving some direction, President Obama has stated his new goals are to focus on prolonged human space flight and sending explorers to Mars, leaving Moon and general space travel to private companies. This means that until those private company solutions are in place, the Russian space program will be the soul carrier of astronauts from around the world to the International Space Station.
Boucher, Evan, "NASA’s Final Shuttle Launch" (2011). UND News Archive. 100.