August 1, 2011  

Shuttle salute

To the Space Shuttle. When Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center on July 21, a 30-year chapter of American human spaceflight was brought to a close. Given the cost of the program — and the lack of new, reachable destinations — it was the right decision to retire NASA’s iconic fleet.

Nevertheless, the achievements of the shuttle program — and the many military officers who worked on it and flew on “the bird” — are phenomenal.

Among the military accomplishments was the Shuttle Radar Mapping mission, which generated the digital terrain data used to navigate and target. But the truly remarkable story of the shuttle is how it brought together military and civilians, pilots and teachers, scientists and engineers from countries all around Earth in a spectacular human endeavor to learn more about our planet and the universe that is its home.

For the Hubble Space Telescope alone, deployed by Discovery in 1990 to become our window into the universe, the shuttle deserves its place as one of America’s most impressive technical and social achievements.