"An Entirely New Type Of Space Transportation"

On January 5, 1972; 40 years ago today:

“I have decided today that the United States should proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970’s into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980’s and ’90’s. – President Nixon on the announcement of the Space Shuttle program.

President Richard M. Nixon and Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, discussing the proposed Space Shuttle.

President Richard M. Nixon and Dr. James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, discussing the proposed Space Shuttle. Jan 5, 1972

[Image Credit: NASA]

40 years ago today, President Nixon announced the development of the Space Shuttle Program, which was retired in 2011.

I personally consider myself a member of the “Space Shuttle Generation”. The program’s maiden manned-voyage came just a year prior to my birth and I’ve spent my life fascinated by the program. It was a great disappointment to me to see the program retired last year — especially with no system ready to replace it.

Christmas Eve Earthrise

On Christmas Eve, 1968, one of the most iconic space images of all time was taken. The beautiful Earthrise image was taken by William Anders, aboard Apollo 8 — the first manned mission to the Moon (to orbit, not land).

Photo of Earth Rise from Apollo 8

(Click image for full-sized version / Source: NASA)

The words of Commander Frank Borman, as taken from the transcript of the mission, are quite fitting of what it must have felt like to see such a sight:

“Oh, my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty!”


Thank You Discovery

Lift-off of STS-133, final mission for Discovery.

Lift-off of STS-133, final mission for Discovery. / Source: NASA


That’s it.

On March 9, 2011, space shuttle (technically, orbiter) Discovery landed at Kennedy Space Center after its final mission in space. This marked the conclusion of Discovery’s 38th mission (STS-133), from which it will retire as NASA’s hardest-working orbiter in the shuttle fleet. Discovery was NASA’s workhouse and many related it as the shuttle fleet’s eldest sibling. Here is a small list of Discovery’s amazing accomplishments over its 27-year history of spaceflight:

  • Discovery got its names from historical sea-faring ships, primarily HMS Discovery which was commanded by Captain James Cook during his third and final voyage (1776-1779). Henry Hudson also searched for the Northwest Passage in a ship named discovery in 1610-1611. 1
  • Discovery performed 39 missions and took 246 astronauts to space.
  • In April 1990, Discovery released the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit
  • Discovery carried Russian cosmonaut, Sergei Krikalev, to space. The first Russian to ever fly in a NASA spacecraft.
  • Discovery spent a total of 365 days in space, orbited Earth 5,830 times and traveled 148,221,675 miles
  • Discovery was the first shuttle to fly after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
  • Discovery's Final Landing

    Discovery's Final Landing / Source: NASA and 46blyz.com

    As someone who considers himself a member of the “Space Shuttle Generation”, it’s sad to see Discovery retired; however, I have positive feelings about being able to live in a time to watch her in action.


    1. That mission didn’t turn out so well for Henry Hudson, not only did he fail to find a water-route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, his crew mutinied and sent him adrift in a small boat. He was never seen again.

Right Place Right Time: Good Luck Discovery

Talk about being at the right place at the right time. A few lucky passengers on a commercial jet flight leaving Orlando got a unique view of the shuttle Discovery’s final launch. Lucky for us, one of those passengers recorded a video.

What a fantastic perspective to view Discovery’s final voyage from.

Ham: The Mercury Program's First Astrochimp

Last week, we recognized sad and tragic events in space history; with the anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire and the Challenger disaster. Today, we lighten things up a bit with a look back in space history and introduce you to the Mercury program’s first astronaut: Ham.

50 years ago today, a chimpanzee named Ham1 was strapped to a rocket and launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on a 16 minute, 39 second sub-orbital flight. The flight was part of NASA’s Mercury Project which sent the first American into space.

Chimpanzee Ham and technician go over equipment in preparation for launch.

Chimpanzee Ham and technician go over equipment in preparation for launch. – Source: NASA

The NASA publication, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, gives an explanation of Ham’s mission:

Having the same organ placement and internal suspension as man, plus a long medical research background, the chimpanzee chosen to ride the Redstone and perform a lever-pulling chore throughout the mission should not only test out the life-support systems but prove that levers could be pulled during launch, weightlessness, and reentry.

Levers could be pulled, and just about as well as they could be pulled in training on Earth. In fact, Ham’s reaction time was only .02 of a second slower than his performance of the same task on Earth.

During the flight, Ham’s capsule suffered from a partial loss of pressure; however, Ham’s spacesuit saved him from harm. All said and done, Ham returned to Earth in great physical shape, save a bruised nose.

The famous "hand shake" welcome. Chimpanzee Ham is greeted by recovery ship Commander after his flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket.

The famous “hand shake” welcome. Chimpanzee Ham is greeted by recovery ship Commander after his flight on the Mercury Redstone rocket. – Source: NASA

After his flight, Ham spent the next 17 years living at the National Zoo, in Washington D.C. He made numerous television appearances, and appeared in film with Evel Knievel. He died of natural causes in 1983, at the age of 26. Ham has a grave at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico.

So today, we look back 50 years and remember Ham and thank him for his contributions to space science.

 

  1. Technically, he wasn’t named Ham until after his successful mission and return to Earth. Until then, he was simply, #65. This is reportedly because officials were concerned with the bad publicity that would result if an unsuccessful mission was compounded with a named chimp. His handlers, however, called him Chop Chop Chang.

Remembering Challenger

25 years ago today, seven explorers gave their lives in the pursuit of scientific understanding. 73 seconds after lift-off, Challenger broke apart and disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean.

Crew of Challenger STS-51-L

Crew of Challenger STS-51-L

We remember Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

We thank them for assisting in this planet’s quest to reach for the stars.

It's Official… Probably

While funding from Congress isn’t complete, NASA added the 135th and final mission for the Shuttle Program. The agency has scheduled the shuttle Atlantis for a launch-date target of June 28.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

Space Shuttle Atlantis following liftoff of STS-129. - Source: NASA

In October of last year, President Obama signed the 2010 NASA Authorization Act which allowed an additional shuttle flight before the fleet retires. Congress, however, has yet to appropriate the full funding required for the mission. Funds to get the mission started are available in existing budgets, but complete funding will have to come from Congress; expected in March.

The mission will take a four-member crew, the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module, and supplies to the International Space Station. One spacewalk is scheduled, and they’ll be returning a faulty ammonia pump module that has been troubling engineers.

I personally hope NASA can keep squeaking through additional shuttle missions. It’s not so much that I don’t want to let the program go, it’s that I don’t want to let it go without a replacement ready to fly.

Ascent – Commemorating The Shuttle Program

This video is making its rounds on the internet. It serves as a beautiful tribute to NASA’s shuttle program. The video is 45-minutes long, but you don’t have to watch it in one sitting; in fact, you can skip around a bit and just enjoy the amazing high-definition, slow-motion, videos of the shuttle systems.

It’s going to be very difficult to say goodbye to the shuttle program, early next year.