End of an era

The 1st NASA space shuttle was launched on April 12, 1981 which also was the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. The orbiter was named Columbia (official designation OV-102) and it took just 8 and a half minutes to get into orbit. Today @ 5.56am EDT Atlantis the 4th shuttle to be completed and delivered to NASA in April 1985 will land from it’s latest mission to the international space station. This landing is set to be the most historic shuttle landing in history as it marks the completion of the shuttle program. The last ever flight of NASA’s own re-usable shuttle started 12 days ago, millions of people across the world watched the historic and awe inspiring launch and millions are set to watch the landing also.

It’s the end of an era for NASA, for the USA and for the world; an era is defined as, “A long and distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic.”  and the Shuttle program has certainly been that. There have been good times and there have been bad times, all of them emotional. Lives have been lost and of course they will never be forgotten, but the program continued and extraordinary advances have been made from the 30 years of the shuttle program.

NASA will continue, and for the moment with the assistance of the Russian space agency keep putting astronauts into space. They are turning to the private sector for their next re-usable crafts, for more information on this the BBC article here has a comprehensive overview.

For now however, let us pause and think on what an amazing era this has been. I found this poem written by a NASA employee Terry Sibile who worked on the shuttles, for me it sums up today perfectly.

‘Twas the Shuttle’s last Christmas by Terry Sibile 

‘Twas the Shuttle’s last Christmas
and our spirits were low,
For the program was ending
and soon we’d all go.

We’d processed the Shuttles
with infinite care
And followed each mission
as if we were there.

We made every effort
to achieve all our goals;
We offered our talents,
our hearts and our souls.

Our work was much more
than a meager career;
‘Twas an honor and privilege
beyond all compare.

As this marvel of science
was applauded worldwide,
We looked on each Shuttle
with unfettered pride:

Columbia, Challenger,
Discovery, and then
Atlantis, Endeavour
all ferried brave men

And women to realms
past the confines of Earth,
Uncovering knowledge
of infinite worth.

We rejoiced with each mission’s
success, and we grieved
For the losses too painful
for us to conceive.

And over the years,
something wondrous took place:
We became kindred spirits,
united by Space.

And so, as we part,
I will bear a great loss.
And hope in the future
our paths again cross.

But until then, my friend,
this wish I confide:
Happy Christmas to all
— we had a great ride!


I will end on this, a simple but heartfelt note. “Thank you NASA, thank you.”