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Today in History: Space Shuttle Discovery

As gnomi already reported here, Discovery landed safely this morning at 8:11:22 AM EDT at Edwards Air Force Base.

The question on many people's minds is: where do we go from here? Is the shuttle fleet permanently grounded? Will there be a new spacecraft designed and built for the 21st century? Will we ever manage to colonize the solar system, and then maybe the galaxy?

But for now...welcome home, Discovery.
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Will we ever manage to colonize the solar system, and then maybe the galaxy?


Maybe to the former, I doubt it to the latter.
Will there be a new spacecraft designed and built for the 21st century?

There has to be. El Presidente says we're going to Mars.
As mucha s I have supported the shuttle program, I have little trust in it, or rather in NASA's ability to make it work. I don't want to see it grounded - it's all we have, after all - but it's just not safe enough, and NASA seems clueless as to how to make it safer.

Will there be a new manned space program? Of course. It just may take a long time till we get there, and will take private industry's help (though I don't think private industry offers a solution by itself). There may a long period during which the ISS is kept afloat by Soyuz capsules and other stopgap measures, though eventually we will see a new, possibly revolutionary, manned spacecraft emerge.

In the meantime, though, as you point out in another post, we have the unmanned program, which has been doing amaizng things for years now. And all those missions to the solar system will point the way.
Maciej Ceglowski has a blistering critique of the entire shuttle program:

Future archaeologists trying to understand what the Shuttle was for are going to have a mess on their hands. Why was such a powerful rocket used only to reach very low orbits, where air resistance and debris would limit the useful lifetime of a satellite to a few years? Why was there both a big cargo bay and a big crew compartment? What kind of missions would require people to assist in deploying a large payload? Why was the Shuttle intentionally crippled so that it could not land on autopilot? 1 Why go through all the trouble to give the Shuttle large wings if it has no jet engines and the glide characteristics of a brick? Why build such complex, adjustable main engines and then rely on the equivalent of two giant firecrackers to provide most of the takeoff thrust? Why use a glass thermal protection system, rather than a low-tech ablative shield? And having chosen such a fragile method of heat protection, why on earth mount the orbiter on the side of the rocket, where things will fall on it during launch?

Taken on its own merits, the Shuttle gives the impression of a vehicle designed to be launched repeatedly to near-Earth orbit, tended by five to seven passengers with little concern for their personal safety, and requiring extravagant care and preparation before each flight, with an almost fetishistic emphasis on reuse. Clearly this primitive space plane must have been a sacred artifact, used in religious rituals to deliver sacrifice to a sky god.

Read The Whole Thing, as they say.
I remember learning about how we ended up with the shuttle. It was supposed to be a combination shuttle and permanent space station. Nixon approved the shuttle part but not the station.

I'll go check out the article.
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