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Space Shuttle reaches the end of an ERA July 7, 2011

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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The final shuttle launch scheduled for Friday marks the end of this era in space exploration. I covered the 2nd to last launch previously. Now the last ever shuttle launch is imminent, there are lots of anecdotes and reminders. Here is an interactive graphic the details the history of this unique space program, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.

Interactive Shuttle timeline

Shuttle launch histo

Because the final shuttle launch is not routine, it will garner lots of media coverage to mark the end of this type of space exploration. While the launch is significant, the completion of this last mission is still important. The final event is the landing and safe return of the shuttle. You can then visit it at a museum in the near future. I have seen one in person – it is not as big as I imagined it to be.

Space travel is still very dangerous. The engineering challenges are huge and there is no room for error. Each system must work flawlessly; if there is a problem, there are redundant and backup systems. The shuttle changed our perception of space travel. It made it seem more pedestrian, safer than being ‘spam-in-a-can’ riding in a giant rocket.

The re-usable shuttle allowed us to rationalize that this type of travel could be within our reach someday. Not yet, not soon either. I think routine commercial space travel is 1 or 2 generations ahead of us. Advances in technology will continue at a pace that is relative to the level of funding. Remember, we met the challenge from JFK to land on the moon in 10 years. We can achieve a similar milestone, all it takes is money.

I’m curious to see what the next era for space travel will be. Whatever the goal is, it will increase our engineering capabilities and expand our knowledge of the cosmos. It will also provide benefits to our daily lives as the technology designed for space travel is leveraged in commercial products and services.

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