Friday, July 08, 2011

Goodbye Atlantis - July 8, 2011

I watched the Shuttle launch for the last time today. It was a flawless launch, though there was a brief delay at the :31 second mark for one last bit of reflection. I work at NASA Langley, so this milestone means a lot to me. I've always been a fan of the space program and it's been a true honor to get to work with the people who make the Shuttle possible. To share this historic moment with my such a good group of people is an honor. There are two theaters here on center and the main viewing event was set-up at the Pearl Young Theater, I opted for the back-up location as it is across the street from my office and it was also not as packed. There was no cheering when the spacecraft cleared the launch pad, we all have learned the hard way to wait a bit now until that brilliant sliver of light reaches high enough to be safely in orbit. It was a somber, sad affair for the people watching in the room many of whom have spent their entire career working on the Shuttle. The USA will officially have no way to put humans into space after this mission. NASA's limited budget ($19 Billion this year, less then one sixteenth of one percent of the overall budget, less then two months worth of what we spend just on the Afghanistan war) forces the choice between maintaining a fleet of low orbit vehicles like the Shuttle or going for deep space goals like the Moon, Mars and beyond. They are choosing the later leaving the low orbit work to the private sector and Elon Musk's Space X Falcon System which is scheduled to have it's first manned launch in 2014. That seems like a long way off. Godspeed Atlantis!