NASA Official Emphasizes Atlantis Move Does Not Mean Human Spaceflight Is Dead

NASA Official Emphasizes Atlantis Move Does Not Mean Human Spaceflight Is Dead

As space shuttle orbiter Atlantis moves from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to the KSC Visitor Complex this morning, NASA is emphasizing that the end of the shuttle program does not mean the end of NASA’s human spaceflight efforts.

Bill Hill, NASA assistant deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters said at a KSC press conference yesterday that “Human spaceflight is not dead….We’re flying every day.”   Hill recapped activities at the International Space Station — where NASA astronaut Suni Williams and Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide successfully completed a spacewalk yesterday — and ongoing development of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft.

Ed Mango, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, added an update on the status of the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Program (CCiCAP), heralding the fact that all three of the CCiCAP partners plan to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, adjacent to KSC, and some may build their vehicles on Florida’s Space Coast.  Boeing, he said, already is planning to build its spacecraft there.  

KSC Director Bob Cabana stressed the efforts currently underway to reinvent KSC as a “multiuser spaceport of the future” that will serve both government and commercial clients.  A former shuttle astronaut, Cabana acknowledged that he feels bittersweet about the end of the shuttle program, but proud of what was accomplished.  Saying that the departure of the orbiters to their display locations was “more emotional than I thought,” he added that he felt “great pride in what this team did.”

Atlantis began its trip to the KSC Visitor Complex at 6:30 am ET.   It is stopping at various points along the path for photo opportunities and is expected to arrive at KSC’s industrial area at about 9:45 am where Cabana, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and other former astronauts will speak at a “retirement ceremony” for the orbiter.  Bolden also is a former shuttle astronaut, and commanded Atlantis in 1992 on the STS-45 mission, a Spacelab mission devote to earth science,

This final journey for Atlantis lacks the grandeur and drama of the other orbiters — Discovery, Enterprise (which never flew in space), and Endeavour — that have been placed on public display around the country.   They reached their destinations atop the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft after making fly-arounds of Washington, DC, New York City, and Los Angeles, CA, respectively, witnessed by many thousands of people.   Atlantis is moving just a short 10 miles from KSC to the Visitor’s Center aboard a flatbed vehicle flanked mostly by “family” — the people who tended her over the past two-and-a-half decades.   Atlantis’s first flight was in 1985; her last flight was the final flight of the space shuttle program, STS-135 in July 2011.

Two space shuttle orbiters — Challenger and Columbia — were destroyed in accidents that took the lives of their crews.   Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch in 1986 due to a failed O-ring in one of the solid rocket boosters.  Columbia disintegrated during return to Earth in 2003 when superheated plasma entered the orbiter’s wing through a hole created during launch when a piece of foam from the shuttle’s External Tank struck the wing.

Those were the only two failures in 135 launches over 30 years, but the loss of those 14 lives — seven on each mission — indelibly affected the human spaceflight program both in terms of space system design and space policy. 

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