Remember when the space program was new and exciting? When Neil Armstrong was stepping onto the moon in 1969, the whole world was watching. But within a few years time, space travel became sort of routine. The space shuttle brought something of an audience back to NASA, and I remember everyone stopping what they were doing to watch the shuttle take off or land. T.V. stations would interrupt regular programming each time there was a launch. But, like the Apollo missions, the new wore off after a while and a shuttle mission was no longer news.
The shuttle is in the news this week. Space Shuttle Atlantis took off yesterday, bound for the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble has been up since 1990, and is need of maintenance. The orbit it’s in is filled with space debris, and this repair mission has been canceled once already for being too dangerous. 5 space walks are scheduled to work on the Hubble, and include basic things like replacing its dying batteries.
Here’s the exciting part: There is so much risk involved to the Atlantis and its crew, that Endeavor is sitting on the launch pad ready to take off. In the event of an emergency, NASA is ready to send a rescue mission at a moment’s notice to bale out the Atlantis crew. This is a first in NASA history.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I actually want for something to go wrong. I’m just glad to see people showing an interest in what’s going on again. Since the Columbia disaster in 2003, the shuttle fleet is down to two. NASA also has new protocols and repair techniques for correcting problems while in space. We have never lost an astronaut in outer space. Once again it seems the world is watching.