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Space Shuttle Atlantis Lands – End Of The Line

Atlantis Returns From Final Mission Of Space Shuttle Program
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Do you remember as a child how excited you may have become when you heard about the possibility of space travel and who was going into space?

Being a member of the “Baby-Boomer” generation  I remember well all of the talk about man going to the moon and possibly further in to space. 

I remember that morning 42 years ago when my dad got us up out of bed to see the landing on the  moon and historical first steps and those words we will never forget. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 

Once that was done, it seemed that all us boys gave the idea of wanting to be cowboys or what ever else was popular at the time and we all wanted to don the space suit and fly to the moon.   We were still intrigued by the fact that a rocket could shoot off from Cape Kennedy / Cape Canaveral and bring them back to a splash down in the ocean.

Just when we thought it could not get any more interesting, along comes the Space Shuttle.  NASA had developed a method to launce people into space on a rocket and then return them back to earth like in a airplane.

April 1981 the very first flight of Columbia went into space.  Only a 54 hour mission to see if the vehicle could withstand tha enormous pressures of take off orbiting the earth and then returning safely. 

 After all was said and done and the testing was determined to be successful,  NASA began a 30 year run putting the 5 shuttles into space 135 times for a total time of 1,331 days and 8 hours.  It seemed flawless at first and then it had a tragedy.  

January of 1986 1 minute and 13 seconds into the flight of Challenger (STS51)  a castophic failure destroyed the vehicle and killed all 7 of the astronauts on board including the first teacher into space, Christa McAuliffe.  None of us back here on earth thought that we could ever get over this.   The last time NASA experienced any type of tragedy was January 27, 1967 when a fire killed all 3 astronauts preparing for the launch of Apollo1.

NASA did recover and after a couple of years to fine tune and ensure all the remaining vehicles were ready for travel they got back into space.  And 87 more flights went up and conducted hundreds of science experiments and tests and then brought the crews back safely.  That is until January of 2003 when the shuttle Columbia just minutes from landing at Kennedy Space Center disintegrated upon entry into the earth’s atmosphere.  Once again a nation mourned the loss of 7 more men and women who pioneered their way into space.

There is alot that can be said of the Space Shuttle program.  More good than bad.  But now that Atlantis has made her final landing, it will be stripped of all of the vital equipment that NASA needs to finalize the tests and experiments that were conducted.  But soon she will be open for all.  Both young and old will be able to walk on board and see the one ship that created history. 

Now that the shuttle program is over, where do we go from here?  Do we go back to the moon?  Or do we seek deeper trips to Mars or beyond?

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