Space Shuttle Discovery Put Out to Pasture
April 18, 2012
National Aeronautics and Space Administration delivered Space Shuttle Discovery, now a space relic, to the Washington’s Smithsonian National Air and Science Museum. In retiring Discovery last year, NASA admitted to the end to U.S.-manned space operations. When the final Apollo 17, 12-day mission, landed on the moon and returned safely to earth Dec. 17, 1972, it was nearly 10 years before the revolutionary launch of Space Shuttle Columbia April 12, 1981. Known as the Space Transportation System [STS], the Shuttle was designed to transport humans and cargo to the orbiting International Space Station. Flying 135 manned flights between 1981 and 2011, the Shuttle was supposed to revolutionize space travel and lead to the next manned spaceship. President Richard M. Nixon authorized the Space Shuttle development in 1969, replacing the Apollo program.
Today’s delivery of the Shuttle Discovery to the Smithsonian museum signals the tragic fall of the U.S. manned space program. When President Barack Obama delivered his space speech at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center April 15, 2010, he announced the development of a new spacecraft designed to land on an asteroid sometime in a murky future. “Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, to human exploration of space than I am,” said Barack, announcing an increase in NASA’s $6 billion budget. “But we’ve got to do it in a smart way. And we just can’t keep doing the same old things that we’ve been doing and thinking that somehow it is going to get us where we want to go,” announcing plans to develop a new spacecraft some 25 years down the road. Obama’s speech admitted that with the Shuttle’s retirement, NASA was, in effect, grounded on earth.
Announcing a four-day festival in Washington, Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Director Gen. J.R. “Jack” Daily celebrated the arrival of the long-awaited Space Shuttle Discovery. Once proud of its 39 manned missions and more that 365 days in space, Daily should have been mourning the loss of U.S. the manned space program. “NASA and the Smithsonian signed an agreement in 1967 that has enabled the National Air and Space Museum to preserve and display the greatest icons of our national space history,” celebrating the past without a future. Transforming manned space operations to the private sector, Obama may have saved tax dollars but robbed a younger generation of the kind of limitless idealism needed to drive the future space program. Given today’s budget constraints, Obama’s April 15, 2010 speech handed NASA’s manned space program to the private sector.
Discovery’s trek to the Smithsonian is more an admission of failure than reason for celebration. While there’s nothing wrong with Udvar-Hazy Center getting a new relic for display, there’s something very wrong with NASA’s lack of forward thinking. When Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin blasted into orbit in his Vostok spacecraft April 12, 1961, it was a real blow to the U.S. space program. U.S. officials didn’t like being outdone by their Russian counterparts. U.S. officials didn’t match the feat until John Glenn orbited the earth in NASA’s Mercury “Friendship” spacecraft Feb. 20, 1962. Four generations of spacecraft later, after Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle, America’s manned space operations are indefinitely grounded. Gone are the days when the U.S. set the global standard for manned space flight. Now Russia, China and European Space Agencies lead the way.
Putting Discovery in the Smithsonian signals a new low-point for NASA reflecting anemic leadership. Handing manned space operations to private contractors like Hawthorne, Calif.-based Space Exploration Technologies [Space-X] shows the extent to which NASA has thrown in the towel. While Discovery’s going to the Smithsonian, Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft is the only manned spacecraft going to the International Space Station. Even Chin’s Shenzhou-7 spacecraft has more promise than anything in NASA’s or the private sector’s fleet. Chinese space officials expect to dock its Shenzhou 9 spacecraft with its Tiangong-1 space laboratory sometime in 2012, surpassing current U.S. capability. While it’s true Space-X works feverishly toward manned space operations, the Russians and Chinese have surpassed the current U.S. manned space program.
Celebrating Discovery’s arrival at the Smithsonian is a bitter reminder of the failure of NASA to develop the next generation manned space vehicle. Judging by the look of the old Russian Soyuz, Chinese Shenzhou and new Space-X’s Dragon spacecrafts, the Space Shuttle was obsolete even at the time of Columbia’s first launch April 12, 1981. SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship mirrors its Russian and Chinese prototypes, demonstrating how the Space Shuttle took NASA’s manned space operations in the wrong direction. Had NASA not sat back on its laurels and handled the space programs more responsibly, the U.S. space program wouldn’t be today’s laughingstock. “As part of the Smithsonian’s collection, Discovery will bring a richer perspective to the historical and scientific significance of the space shuttle program, one of our country’s greatest achievements,” said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough.
Home || Articles || Books || The Teflon Report || Reactions || About Discobolos
Discobolos Consulting Services, Inc.