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More Than Just Tang

April 16, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

If you grew up in the 80's, you've never known life without the Space Shuttle. And if you were a tiny science nerd like me, you watched every launch with wide eyes, and have the last images of Challenger and Columbia etched into your memory.

But keeping track of all the missions is tough, even for a space addict. It has become a part of our news cycle, mission after mission to the International Space Station - 132 successful runs since its inception in 1981. It's unsettling to think that after September of this year, there will be no more Space Shuttle missions.

Yes, you read that right. The Shuttle is done. On September 14th, 2010, Discovery will launch STS-133, the "134th and final shuttle flight," according to the NASA website.

So, why stop now, when things are going so swimmingly? Basically, the Shuttle is the wrong size for the tasks NASA wants to complete in the next 30 years or so: too big for transporting astronauts, and too small to do the heavy lifting needed to build ships in space.

The shuttles were designed to help construct the ISS. Now that the station is complete, NASA is looking to other heavenly bodies, while at the same time planning a hard look at our own.

U.S. President Obama announced on April 15th that NASA will aim to land a manned crew on an asteroid by 2025, and on Mars by 2035. At the same time, there will be many satellites launched to analyze the deteriorating health of planet Earth. Getting humans to and from the ISS will be outsourced to private ventures like Virgin Galactic, while NASA focuses on building heavy-lift rockets to get ship-building equipment in orbit.

In the meantime, those of us who grew up in the 80's will have to come to terms with a new world order, where there is no Space Shuttle, asteroids are to be landed on and not blown to smithereens, and Mars is a plan and not an infinite dream.

NASA: more than just Tang.

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