2011-04-28 / Features

NASA Space Shuttle Program Nears End

NASA’s Face in Space program announced
By Dick Largent

Space Shuttle Atlantis has already logged 120 million miles in flight. Space Shuttle Atlantis has already logged 120 million miles in flight. Editor’s Note: Dick Largent is a former resident of Fulton County who was a NASA engineer for 35 years.

The Space Transportation System (STS) is winding down to its final mission. STS-135 will mark the last flight not only for the orbiter vehicle “Atlantis” but also the end of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Space Shuttle program as we know it.

This behemoth space vehicle, known as the space shuttle, could be called the holy grail of space transportation. It probably is the most complex vehicle ever built. An array of technical issues encountered during its development challenged the best of the engineering and scientific worlds and stimulated minds in the academic arena. The shuttle vehicle strapped to a launch pad basically encompasses five major parts: two solid rocket boosters, an external fuel tank, a set of three liquid propellant fed main engines and the orbiter vehicle.

The shuttle was designed as a logistics vehicle to transport major building modules into Earth orbit plus all supplies and materials needed to assemble the International Space Station (ISS) and ferry support crews back and forth from Earth orbit. This space truck has received an abundance of public media attention in past years associated with the construction feats of the ISS in orbit around Earth.

The orbiter “Atlantis” has the honor and distinction to serve as the manned flight vehicle for the program’s last mission. It will be a fitting finale for the retiring vehicle, although shuttering the entire STS program won’t be easy. NASA most certainly must position itself to wrestle a myriad of issues and problems. One that comes to mind is how to keep the ISS operational with supplies and rotation of fresh crew members. The current solution is to grab a taxi ride on Russian’s ongoing cargo and cosmonaut shuttle vehicles.

Another problematic area that can’t be treated lightly is how to dispose of all the ground support equipment scattered throughout the world that are unique to the shuttle program. A retirement home for the three remaining flight orbiters and one test orbiter was recently announced that seemed relatively easy compared to what the space agency now faces in sorting through and disposing of millions of spare parts, test structures and major launch support equipment.

Of course, plans for NASA’s future in space will depend largely on available funding and the evolving political scene. Meanwhile, amid the demise of the shuttle program, you may be pleased to know that NASA has initiated an interesting invitation to the American public that is an opportunity to personally associate yourself with the space program. Simply put, you can send your picture and name for a ride on the last shuttle adventure. This all-important mission is targeted for launch in late June 2011, so hurry and submit your name and photograph.

The following guidelines describe this NASA “Face In Space” invitation:

NASA is collecting digital photos and names from the public to launch on the last and final space shuttle mission. Your photograph and name can be uploaded to a new Web site under the “Face in Space” program. “The space shuttle program belongs to the public, and we are excited when we can provide an opportunity for people to share the adventure of our mission,” NASA’s space shuttle program chief John Shannon said in a statement.

The public is invited to send their portrait into space on this flight. You may not be able to squeeze your whole body onto NASA’s last shuttle mission, but your face can go – at no charge. All it takes is a digital photo and a few clicks of a computer mouse and about five minutes to sign up. Only one name is printed on each certificate of flight. Return to this link a few days after the flight to download your official “Certificate of Flight.” Be sure to print a copy of your “conformation number” made available after completing the entry form. You will need that number to retrieve your certificate. To participate, type this NASA link into your computer browser window and follow the prompts: http://faceinspace.nasa.gov

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