A discussion ensued following yesterday’s post about the launch of Atlantis which raised a few questions about the future of the space program. I just found this at the AP which answers some of those. I learned in the article that “NASA is under orders to build a giant rocket to go beyond Earth orbit.” Cool. Didn’t know that.
Q: Why are the shuttles retiring?
A: The shuttles are aging and expensive and their chief task of building the International Space Station is essentially done. Now NASA wants to do something new.
Q: Who decided to stop flying the shuttles?
A: President George W. Bush made the decision in 2004. He wanted astronauts to go back to the moon, and eventually to Mars. But President Barack Obama dropped the moon mission. His plan has NASA building 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.
Q: Why were the shuttles built?
A: It was supposed to make getting into space cheap, simple and safe, flying into low orbit virtually every week. It didn’t accomplish that. But it was the best way to get big items — such as satellites and the Hubble Space Telescope — into orbit . . .
Q: What happens to the space shuttles?
A: They’ll be on display across the country. 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.
Q: How will astronauts get to the space station?
A: NASA will continue to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules to ferry space station residents. The $56 million price per head will go up to $63 million, which is still cheaper per person than the space shuttle.