Space: The closed frontier

This makes me happy:

ISS and Endeavour seen from Soyuz

Once in a life-time picture of the Space Shuttle Endeavour docked at the ISS. Taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011. For more, see NASA's incredible gallery or click for an embiggening of this image.

But this makes me very sad indeed:

Time flies

Credit: XKCD

If you’d asked me as a teenager, I’d have told you that we’d be on Mars by 2010. Why? Because we can. Because it’s there. Because we’re explorers. And because new eras of civilisation begin with new discoveries on new frontiers. There are those that say that we’ve got better things to spend the money on, but then again, those people clearly don’t have even the most basic grasp of how economics work and if we listened to them then we’d still be stuck in the middle ages. I don’t know about you, but I’m prepared to poke around expanding the horizons of our knowledge out of both curiosity and the hope that this expansion improves both the lives and collective understanding of everyone.

When I was growing up, I believed that I’d get a shot at going into space in my lifetime — that the cost of doing so would allow me to cover the Earth with my thumb and have the same sense of perspective that the Apollo astronauts did back in the late 60s and early 70s. Now, sadly, it looks less and less likely. Until someone figures out how to make a whole stack of cash out of putting people in space, such baby steps into the void around our little planet need to be funded by tax payers and one of those funding doors is about to slam shut.

Today is the last ever launch of the Space Shuttle. Atlantis is scheduled to lift off at 16:26 BST. They’re filling the tank with fuel as I write this post. Bad weather means that there is only a 30% chance of successful lift-off, but if you’re remotely interested in this stuff, tune in to NASA TV and watch the whole process: it’s the last time you will be able to do so. You can watch the astronauts get strapped in, listen to all the hard-working folks check and double-check and all being well, get to watch – live – the last ever launch of the Space Shuttle. Tune in. It’s history being written.

In the meanwhile, manned space travel is now the realms of the Russians1 and their fantastically reliable work-horse Soyuz. The European Space Agency are tootling around with some stuff that’ll probably be derived from their pressurised ATV, but frankly, they’re so bloody awful at PR that I doubt you’d notice even if they did launch someone. They’ve managed to make space travel about as interesting as watching grass grow.

Have a fine mission, STS-135.

1 And the Chinese now that they too are setting out on this exciting path.

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3 Responses to Space: The closed frontier

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