2011, bringing to an end 30 years of the shuttle flights (see picture gallery
for an extraordinary picture of Atlantis’s reentry track taken from the
International Space Station (ISS)). The programme is assured to be a major chapter in the history of human spaceflight – with its many highs, and tragic lows. With the loss of 14 brave souls it is finally time to appreciate that the shuttle is not only a brilliant engineering achievement, but also has to be recognised as too dangerous a machine to carry people into orbit. Two catastrophic failures in 135 flights makes for poor odds.
But now, for the first time in 50 years, the NASA finds itself in the extraordinary position of not being capable of launching astronauts into
orbit! With the ISS lifetime being extended until 2020, US astronauts will only have access via the good will of the Russians, until other means are provided by private venture launch solutions. It has to be said that the blame for this nonsensical situation must be laid firmly at the door of the Obama administration. What now for the US human spaceflight programme, now that the reins of leadership have been handed over to other potential international competitors?
I suspect that, when one of these potential competitors grasp that role, the US will come to its senses, but how long will that be? US leadership in human spaceflight – R.I.P. ?