Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Atlantis Pilot: Shuttle Difficult To Replace

The pilot of NASA's last shuttle mission says it will be a long time until a spacecraft as versatile as the the shuttle is fielded.

NASA's five shuttle orbiters -- Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour -- all could accommodate seven or eight astronauts. The spacecraft all carried huge payloads and could launch or retrieve satellites.

NASA shuttles were used to launch and service the Hubble Space Telescope. Spacecraft to explore the sun, Venus, and Jupiter were sent off from shuttles. Shuttles launched a series of critical national security missions. Nine missions were flown to the Russian space station Mir, and the International Space Station could not have been built with the versatile vehicles.

"None of these things could have been done without the space shuttle. It's just been a tremendous mainstay of the United States space program for the past 30-plus years," Atlantis pilot Doug Hurley said in a satellite interview today. "It's probably going to be a long time before we see something that capable in low Earth orbit."

Hurley and three other astronauts remain scheduled to blast off aboard Atlantis on July 8. Atlantis commander Chris Ferguson, Hurley and two mission specialists -- Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim -- will fly to Kennedy Space Center next week to take part in a practice countdown.

The Atlantis astronauts will deliver a year's worth of supplies to the International Space Station, leaving the outpost well stocked in advance of U.S. commercial cargo flights that are scheduled to begin launching next year.

As pilot, Hurley will be at the controls when the Atlantis departs the station. He'll fly one final victory lap around the outpost before heading toward a July 20 landing at KSC.

"I just feel so lucky and so fortunate to be able to do that," Hurley said. "I just have to pinch myself sometimes."


Mark Lopa said...

How ironic that the termination of this awesome machine is scheduled to happen on the anniversary of our proudest and boldest space feat.

Gaetano Marano said...

that is what I've always said in last 5.5 years!