Space Shuttle Atlantis has landed safely

Launch of STS-132
Launch of STS-132

Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at 8:48.11 Eastern time at Kennedy Space Center. This makes Atlantis our first Space Shuttle to retire. (I think that also makes it the second reusable space vehicle to retire, after SpaceShipOne decommissioned in 2004.)

This is a sad day in space exploration…but it is long overdue. In what other modern industry or field of endeavor other than space exploration do we continue to use 30-year-old vehicles and devices, and in what other field do we consider those vehicles to be “cutting-edge?” This is the beginning of a period of transition, and I can’t wait to see us get started on what’s next. That day, also, is long overdue.

Congratulations to Atlantis and its many crews on the successful completion of all its missions.

5 thoughts on “Space Shuttle Atlantis has landed safely”

  1. Actually, Atlantis is scheduled as the back-up vehicle for the STS-134 mission and won’t be retired until that flight lands safely. So, while this is, in all likelihood, Atlantis‘s final flight, she’s still on the roster and will go through processing one last time.

  2. Uh… 30 year old B-52 bombers were commonplace, ditto 30 (and 50) year old C-47s. A couple of WW2 battleships were also pulled out of mothballs and used for bombarding coastlines during the VietNam War; if they were 30 years old, they were close to it. There are probably a whole bunch of 30 year cargo ships sailing the seas even today. You can still see the occasional 30 year old auto on the streets in the USA; I gather they’re even more common (and even older) if you look around in South America. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that a lot of 30 year old locomotives were used on American railroads for that matter.

    Getting away from vehicles, 30 year old (90 year old!) subway lines are pretty well known, 50 year old dams and bridges are laid pretty heavily across the nation, and there are more 100 year old buildings than anyone sensible would try to count.

    There’s nothing wrong with old technology, in other words, particularly if there’s no reasonable replacement. I concede it’s a bit sad to look at a space shuttle and realize so much time has passed without more modern vehicles appearing to replace them … but that’s the way the world operates.

  3. Fair point, Mike, we do still use them. I got a bit overzealous with my rhetoric there.

    However, it is true that we don’t rely exclusively on those vehicles, and we keep pushing the development of new one while we use the old. Those WW2 battleships may have been *used* during the Vietnam War, but that doesn’t mean people thought they were “cutting-edge,” as many laypeople think of the Space Shuttle. Furthermore, that was the Vietnam era; I think the 24-hour news cycle and the rapid tech product development cycle we see nowadays gives people a different impression – you’re never going to see anyone with an iPhone 3GS in 2040!

  4. Truthfully, I never saw the shuttles as “cutting edge” when I was working on them and I don’t recall that other folks at Rockwell really saw them that way either. They were basically kludgy vehcles with a lot of unhappy compromises built in — as results have shown. No one ever anticipated using them for more than 10 years after construction, let alone 30, and NASA’s unwillingness to press for money to build better replacements now looks on a par with British and America unpreparedness for modern warfare in 1939.

    Oh well.

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