Space Shuttle Atlantis taking off
The Shuttle Atlantis has returned to Earth, and the shuttle program has come to an end. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The shuttle Atlantis has landed after a short mission to the International Space Station, bringing the space shuttle program to a close. NASA is entering a different phase until the agency has a new space flight vehicle. Astronauts now have to rely on the Russian space agency or contractors to get to space.

Astronauts to rely on contractors or Soyuz to get to space

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is going to be without a space vehicle for the second time in its history,. The space shuttle program officially ended when the Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida today. Until the next NASA spacecraft has been constructed and approved for use, NASA astronauts will have to pay to hitch a ride with Russian cosmonauts aboard flights of the Soyuz spacecraft or use a private contractor and a commercially developed spacecraft. It is unknown when the first commercial spaceflight taking humans into space will take place, but NASA is currently allocating funding to various companies for research and development, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The next flight to leave Canaveral might not take off until 2015 at least, according to CNN.

Shuttle program ends quietly

The last mission of the space shuttle program was fairly pedestrian and anticlimactic. The Shuttle Atlantis, carrying a four-person crew, went on a 12-day mission to the International Space Station and delivered 9,400 pounds of supplies. Atlantis will be put on display at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. The other shuttles, according to USA Today, will go to museums. The Shuttle Endeavour, which recently returned from its final mission, will be put on display at the California Science Center. The Shuttle Discovery will go to the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum. The Shuttle Enterprise will be put on display at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York.

New chapter for space agency

This is not the first time NASA has been without a space vehicle. The last Apollo flight, according to Wikipedia, occurred in 1975, and the first orbital flight of the space shuttle didn’t occur until 1981. Not everyone thinks the end of the space shuttle is necessarily a bad thing. The space shuttle is designed for near-Earth orbit, not deep space travel, which is the long-term goal for NASA, according to the Los Angeles Times. President Obama wants NASA to focus on getting astronauts to land on asteroids and eventually to send a person to Mars, which a shuttle was not capable of doing. According to USA Today, NASA’s Juno probe will begin its journey to Jupiter in August and should arrive there in 2016. In September, NASA is launching the National Polar Environmental Satellite project, which will install satellites in orbit to monitor Earth.


Christian Science Monitor:


USA Today:

Wikipedia on history of NASA flights:

USA Today:

Los Angeles Times:,0,508246.story?page=1

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