|Last Launch of Columbia 2003|
From The New York Times
When the first space shuttle,
Unlike the rockets that brought astronauts to the moon, the shuttles were orbiters designed for repeated use on missions into space. Each shuttle also had the ability to carry satellites and other large payloads into space, and could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
After decades of use, the shuttles had just about reached the end of their useful lives. The Bush administration announced in 2004 that it would bring the program to a close.
|First Shuttle Launch 1981 - Columbia|
The end came as the space shuttle Atlantis rolled to a stop just before 6 a.m. on July 21, 2011. During its 13-day mission, Atlantis had ferried 8,000 pounds of supplies and spare parts to the International Space Station; with the retirement of the shuttles, the space station will now rely on Russian, European and Japanese rockets to bring up supplies.
In all, NASA built five shuttles for space flight —
, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. The first flight was made by Columbia on April 12, 1981. Three of the shuttles still exist today. Columbia
|Columbia Explodes Before Landing|
The Challenger exploded after takeoff on its 10th mission in 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board, including a
|End of an Era|
The program leaves behind a giant question mark over the future of manned space flight, with a replacement a distant reality.
At the direction of the Obama administration and Congress, NASA is developing a large new rocket to send deep into space. No destination has been selected, however, and money is tight. NASA is also trying to nurture a commercial industry that will loft astronauts toward the stars. But the ventures, which involve partnerships with private-sector companies like SpaceX and Boeing, focus on hardware development and so far have no declared goals beyond low orbits around the planet. The shuttles did that for decades, starting in 1981.
NASA is also counting on two commercial companies, the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation of
Hawthorne, Calif., and the Orbital Sciences Corporation of , to begin cargo flights in 2012. Dulles, Va.