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Space Shuttle Endeavor’s Final Flight

16/05/2011

More than 500,000 people were expected to gather to watch the final takeoff of the space shuttle Endeavor this morning at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Relatively speaking, Endeavor is a “new” shuttle (there are, after all, cars and airplanes that are in service for far longer periods of time), which entered service in 1992 after the tragedy of the Challenger in 1986. Most Americans who were alive at that time remember where we were when we witnessed that event on live television. However, as the travel into, and back from, space is extremely hard on a shuttle, it is time for Endeavor to retire, to avoid future accidents.

The end of the space shuttle, and consequently the U.S. space program, is a concern for many Americans. After all, we were not the first into space (that was the Soviet Union), and people worry that the advantage that the U.S. has built up over the past five decades will be lost. So what is next for Americans who want to go into space? Well, at this time, the only option is to rely on Russian shuttles, such as the Soyuz rocket. However, this is not a new option – what many people, especially Americans, do not realize is that we have been cooperating with Russia, and using the Soyuz, for many years. So we will simply continue our cooperation.

Will The United States remain a leader in space? As the U.S. is the main driver behind the International Space Station, many people believe so. According to Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator. “We still are leading in space; we’re doing it a different way.”

Here is a little more information about the end of the space shuttle program:

Why did the U.S. end its space program?

In short, because the government wanted to invest the large amount of money it takes to run the program elsewhere. One person has written that “The space agency wants to hand over the business of getting crews and cargo to the space station, to private companies.” Another wrote a similar response, “The shuttles are aging and expensive, their key task is nearly completed and NASA wants to use the money spent on them to do something new.”

Who decided to stop flying shuttles?

President George W. Bush made the decision in 2004. He wanted astronauts to go back to the moon, and eventually to Mars. For NASA to afford to build a new spaceship to reach those goals, it had to stop spending about $4 billion a year on the shuttle program.

However, President Barack Obama dropped the moon mission. He plans for NASA to build a giant rocket to send astronauts to an asteroid, and eventually Mars, while turning over to private companies the job of carrying cargo and astronauts to the space station.

What happens to the space shuttles?

Like most valuable American artifacts, they will go to museums. Endeavour goes to the California Science Center in Los Angeles and Atlantis will stay at Kennedy Space Center for its visitor complex. Discovery’s new home will be the Smithsonian Institution’s hangar near Washington Dulles International Airport. Enterprise, a shuttle prototype used for test flights, goes to New York City’s Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.

What about the International Space Station?

The station, which is now large enough to accommodate six people, will be operated at least until 2020. Research is conducted on the station on wide-ranging topics such as astronomy and zoology.

So for now, though America will no longer launch shuttles into space, her space program as a whole certainly is not dead. What remains to be seen is the direction it takes from here.

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