Tuesday, May 09, 2006

STS-1: 25 Years Later

Last month was the 25th anniversary of the launch of STS-1. If anyone doesn’t know what that is, it’s the first flight of the Space Shuttle. On April 12, 1981 the Space Shuttle launched to much fanfare with a mission objective, according to the website was “Demonstrate safe launch into orbit and safe return of the orbiter and crew. Verify the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle - orbiter, solid rocket boosters and external tank.”

Columbia, named for the Boston based sloop and the Apollo 11 command module, was the first Shuttle to go up for a two-day ride piloted by Robert Crippen and commanded by John Young. Young was picked as an astronaut in 1962 and flew in space Gemini and Apollo missions, walking on the moon on the Apollo 16 crew. He was a very experience astronaut and the STS-1 flight was his fifth space flight. Crippen was on the Skylab mission in the Seventies but STS-1 was his first space flight. He was on four Shuttle missions all together.

The Space Shuttle is the infamous and often troubled reusable space vehicle. In the new millennium or the 2000s we are still using a shuttle that was built on 1970s technology. Despite President Bush’s bravado, I have my doubts about the new Moon and Mars missions. This grand plan, in typical Bush style, excited the imagination but lack substance and thought. We will be redirecting billions of dollars away from unmanned space missions, like reconditioning the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been a huge success (after a small hiccup with the multi-million dollar lens being out of focus!) to waste dollars on new technology.

Not to sound like a hypocrite or a flip-flopper, but while I believe the Space Shuttle has outlived its usefulness and should have been replaced with newer technology long ago, I also think NASA needs to concentrate government funding on pure research and leave exploration to private companies. In thirty years we have regressed in the actual distance from earth we’ve attained on every manned space mission. Instead of going further we’ve actually stuck closer to home. Going to Mars was a 1980s mission that we never flew. Now with the accessibility of technology in the hands of private companies (see the X-Prize) NASA should encourage and support these private endeavors while placing its focus on missions that result in real science.

Flying a man (or a crew of people) to Mars accomplished little more than what we can do over the next few years with a robotic explorer. Lots of leaner and meaner missions that have specific objectives or multiple small objectives should be the order of the day, not grandiose dreams. America is loosing the manned space race but who cares? Is it really that important to fly the first man to Mars? If so we need to establish a multi-national accord with the European, Japanese and Chinese space agencies to accomplish this goal. By sharing the cost among nations we can continue to accomplish real science mission while also achieving big dreams.

Some of the recent successes at NASA should show how unmanned space missions should be at the forefront of their agenda. From the Mars Rovers both outliving their projected lifespans to the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn to the Deep Impact mission testing comet density and make-up to the sun-studying Ulysses to New Horizons going to the far reaches of the solar system, NASA has proven it can get a successful missions up there and working to the benefit of science advancement.

As a fan of Science Fiction, I do wan to see a man on Mars, a real man (or woman). I don’t care if he’s American. I do care that America is a part of that mission. I do care that we don’t do what we’ve been doing to ourselves for many years now in this country, sacrificing science, math and physics education and research for unrealistic versions of the future.

10 comments:

The Phoenix said...

At this rate, a manned mission to Mars won't happen in the next 10 years.

ObilonKenobi said...

True. I expect the only way we'll get there is with an international coallition.

Phats said...

I am fascinated with space travel! I watched all the coverage I could of the return to flight, the first mission since the the columbia tragedy. I don't think I could ever go up though

ObilonKenobi said...

I should make this a post on the site and perhaps I still will but I went on the Mission:Space ride in Epcot 2 years ago. I didn't get sick but I felt flush and queesy after getting off. It just proved that I was not made for space travel. The G-Force on "take-off" was pretty strong.

Karen said...

Don't think the space age is a top priorty for bush, and even if it was, he has us bogged down financially in Iraq.

Thanks for stoppin' by my place!

ObilonKenobi said...

I know that space exploration is secondary to other issues we face on earth. That is why we need to be careful how we position it and Bush goes off half-cocked all the time talking about things that he knows nothing about.

The Phoenix said...

Didn't Bush invent the cockeyed missile? It's kin to the SCUD, right? I thought it is launched into space, then it looks like it's going for it's intended target, but then gets distracted and hits an irrelevant one.

ObilonKenobi said...

LOL. Sounds like something he'd invent.

Phats said...

I rode mission space! it was a blast but intense. I know a few people have died after riding it.

ObilonKenobi said...

I heard that too. After I rode it. If I'd known people died on it I'd never have gotten on! Although there are a thousand warnings before you get on that this ride may kill you.