The United States space shuttle programming is winding down. Already the Discovery has flown its final mission. Today, at 8:56 am EDT, the Shuttle Endeavour is scheduled to make its final launch. The Shuttle Atlantis will make its final trip in June.
When Atlantis is retired, it will mark the end of thirty years of the Space Shuttle program. For the first time in my life time, the United States will not have a program in place to send humans into space. In fact, this will be the first break in US space flight, which has continued uninterrupted for the last five decades since Project Mercury.
In an effort to develop a replacement, NASA is awarding $269.3 million to four companies that plan to work on new spaceships capable of ferrying astronauts into orbit. The money is going to Blue Origin, the Boeing Co., Sierra Nevada Corp. and SpaceX. The awards, ranging from $22 million to $92.3 million, are aimed at supporting the development of private-sector space transportation systems that will help fill the gap left by this year’s expected retirement of the space shuttle fleet. It will not be cheap or quick to get private-sector spaceships into service. NASA is currently looking until at least the middle of the decade before anything is ready to purchase and begin bringing into service.
There are still ways to get people and things into space. The US government has negotiated deals with the Russian space program to buy time and space on their rocket trips. This will enable us to continue having a strong presence in space and on the International Space Station. Definitely not an ideal solution though. It is hard not to be sad to see our once great space program stuck hitching rides. Hopefully a better solution comes soon.
Update: The Shuttle Endeavour has successfully made it to space. You can watch a video of the launch on NASA’s website.
-That is all.