The U.S. space shuttle Endeavour took off on its penultimate mission (STS-134) on May 16 after having been postponed several times due to additional engineering preparations and malfunctions at the launch site in Florida.
The word “last” is never used by people of hazardous professions in Russia, such as submariners, air pilots, missile crews and cosmonauts. They would rather say any other word, but never “last.”
So, Endeavour’s final mission was approved back in 2009 and has been postponed several times. Originally, NASA planned to make 133 shuttle missions. The Discovery space shuttle was scheduled to make the final STS-133 mission.
However, NASA needs more shuttle flights, so Atlantis will make the next flight after Endeavour’s mission in late June.
STS-135 will be the final mission made under the U.S. space shuttle program.
U.S. shuttles have made 134 space flights over the past 30 years, working around the year to deliver first scientific equipment and then crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). They also docked with the Russian Mir space station several times before it splashed down into the western Pacific.
The Soviet analogue of the U.S shuttles, Buran, was orbited several years before the Soviet Union’s collapse, even though there were still a few bugs remaining in the system. However, the new market conditions dictated the use of the cheaper and tried-and-tested Soyuz spacecraft, and it would now be impossible to resume the Buran program. The Soviet shuttle spacecraft has long been laid to rest, and its U.S. forerunner is now preparing to leave active service.
The shuttle spacecraft worked without respite, but the 2003 tragedy that occurred due to equipment depreciation and human error forced the authorities to slow the shuttle program’s pace and step up efforts to find a suitable replacement.
The Dragon flies
NASA will now have to use Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to deliver crews and cargo to the U.S. segment of the ISS, even though many people in the United States argue that the space station is a white elephant.
There is a new project, the Falcon 9 rocket-powered spaceflight launch system, which has recently been tested by the private SpaceX company.
In December, SpaceX placed into orbit the first commercial vehicle – the unmanned Dragon spacecraft. It has signed a lucrative contract with NASA to use Dragon to deliver cargo to the ISS.
The new project, a 2.9-meter blunt-cone structure 3.6 meters in diameter with a thick heat shield, will take over from the shuttle spacecraft.
The synergy of the Russian and U.S. space industries and economies has forced Americans to give up the graceful, but complicated and fragile shuttle spacecraft, which they have replaced with a solid reentry vehicle similar to the Russian-built Soyuz. I think we will eventually get used to this unwieldy space vehicle.
The same logic underlies the creation of Russia’s next-generation Prospective Piloted Transport System (PPTS) manned spacecraft, unofficially called “Rus,” which should replace the aging Soyuz developed more than 40 years ago. It will launch from the Vostochny space center in Russia’s Far East in 2018.
Down to pasture
The U.S. shuttle spacecraft will be put to rest in museums.
Discovery has been offered to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Virginia where it will replace Enterprise, which made five trial flights but was never orbited.
Enterprise, the first shuttle built, will be moved to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
The Endeavour space shuttle is coming back to southern California where it was developed and built for permanent display at the California Science Center.
Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida – the closest aviation museum to its launch site.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.