Monday, May 30, 2011

Reflecting on Endeavour's Great Journey

From Ralph Vartabedian, at Los Angeles Times:

Spare parts were collecting dust in warehouses in Bell, Downey and Palmdale when the urgent call came from NASA: the nation needed another space shuttle.

It was the unusual beginning of the orbiter Endeavour, which will streak across the California coastline at hypersonic velocity one last time Wednesday, carrying its six astronauts and two decades of the nation's human space flight history.

When it was christened in Palmdale in 1991, it was the newest and most capable of the fleet, fawned over by astronauts for its advanced flight electronics, sinuous skins and, eventually, the first toilet that actually worked.
"It was a real clean bird," said Robert "Hoot" Gibson, the Navy aviator who flew Endeavour the year it entered service in 1992. "We didn't have any issues with that machine."

But it began its life amid a political scheme to circumvent opponents by squirreling away spare parts in the hope they would someday amount to a real spacecraft.

When the Challenger was lost in an explosion in 1986, the spare-parts plan was vindicated and they suddenly became the starting point for keeping the shuttle program alive.

And now the ship will come back home a museum piece in the county where it was built, destined for a display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The last shuttle flight is scheduled to launch July 8, after decisions by the Bush and Obama administrations to end the program.

More at the link above.

Seems weird the program's winding down and America's got nothing big planned to replace it.
RELATED: "After Columbia: why we must still boldly go" [from 2003].

Also, a NASA Twitpic.