An important chapter in manned space exploration came to an end last week when Atlantis touched down following a 13-day mission to resupply the International Space Station. STS-135 was the last flight of the 30-year-old space shuttle program. And until NASA develops a new vehicle to launch astronauts into space, Americans will have to hitch rides on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
This is unthinkable to some NASA legends. Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, recently joined with former Sen. John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and first shuttle pilot Robert Crippen to ask NASA to delay its retirement of the space shuttle program.
Glenn, who returned to space at age 77 by joining the crew of the shuttle Discovery in 1998, said he told President Obama that ending the program would be “violating one of NASA’s critical design criteria.”
That means, Glenn said, there should be a backup system for getting Americans into space and bringing astronauts home from the International Space Station.
Last month, Armstrong, Mission Control founder Chris Kraft and Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell sent a letter to the president and NASA chief Charles Bolden requesting the space agency keep shuttles flying until a new space vehicle is ready for launch.
It’s not just NASA veterans who are disappointed to see the shuttle program come to an end. As Press staff writer Rex Barber reported earlier this month, the chairman of the physics and astronomy department at East Tennessee State University is also saddened by the program’s demise.
“I was born in (1957) and I grew up with the space race,” Donald Luttermoser said. “It’s one of the reasons I became an astronomer, because of all the publicity.”
Luttermoser said the shuttle program has been a useful tool for enticing young Americans to get interested in the field of science. Manned space flights have also provided invaluable knowledge in a number of important areas.
Luttermoser also said the shuttle played a key role in repairing and maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been peering into deep space for more than 20 years.
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