May 28, 2023

By Ahmet Abdulaziz….

I am writing this column, from my home where I am in quarantine along with my wife. I intend to write about this period of self isolation next week since right now the obligatory period is far from ended.

Today is 21st July, and this date has a specific place in the international space calendar in general and for NASA in particular. On 21st July 2011 NASA had officially announced the completion of its space Shuttle program, after the landing of the shuttle Atlantis at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. That  was the 135th and last mission of the shuttle program that had started some 30 years ago.

Back in 1972, Richard Nixon, the then USA President, had announced the decision to start working on developing a space transportation system where a space vehicle would be able to be used for shuttling from earth to space and back. The 9 years of hard work by NASA led to the introduction of five such space vehicles, vis Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. All these 5 space shuttles flew more than 500 million miles, carrying more than 350 people in space.

Columbia was the first of the five that lifted off from Kennedy Space Centre on 12th April 1981. On this inaugural 54 hours flight, the astronauts successfully tested all its systems while orbiting the earth 37 times. Unfortunately, Columbia failed to reach its planned retirement age, as on 1st February 2003, Columbia disintegrated while returning back after a 15 days long mission. All 7  crew members lost their lives.

But that was not the only tragedy that NASA faced during these shuttle space flights. Earlier to the Columbia tragedy, the Challenger exploded on 28th January 1983, just 73 seconds  after lifting off. Once again all  7 crew members had died.

Apart from these two horrible disasters, on an overall basis the shuttle program played a valuable role  in paving way for furthering space missions towards Mars.

Though one of the reasons behind starting the useable space shuttle program, was cost saving and slicing the financial strain for the space research program, yet as the program proceeded, it was noticed that the shuttles were leading to higher costs. Apart from many other technical reasons, the higher operating costs was one of the major issues that led to the ultimate decision of concluding the shuttle program .

Of the five space worthy shuttles Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour. are now available at various display places in different areas of the USA.

Though the shuttle program ended exactly 10 years ago, the progress in space is going on at a greater pace.

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