From NASA Veteran: Thank You, Space Shuttle, and Farewell

Yahoo Contributor Network

Yahoo! News asked its readers and contributors to share their memories of the space shuttle program as it nears its end in July. Below is a story from a contributor.

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I have always been a space nut and am lucky enough to have spent a career as an aerospace engineer at NASA. As a child, if you had told me that one day I would work with NASA and the heroes of space flight, I would have responded in wide-eyed incredulity. I recall an early business trip to the Kennedy Space Center where, in my giddiness, I marveled that they were really paying me to be here.

In this dream job, I have witnessed space shuttle launches at close range, given presentations at NASA headquarters, climbed and crawled around the shuttle launch complex and shuttle equipment, stood under the space shuttle Columbia on the launch pad, and served in the support rooms of mission control. My encounters with greatness include working with astronauts, moonwalkers, and other NASA engineers and administrators.

My most poignant moment was when I worked on the Columbia Accident Investigation in 2003. The nation lost seven astronauts when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up aerodynamically in the upper atmosphere. Our team, one of several, made a trip to the Kennedy Space Center to observe and study the debris collected from east Texas. The scene was sobering. Columbia, the jewel of the early program and after 28 flights, lay wasted in melted, fractured, and shredded pieces on the hanger floor, another indication of the unforgiving energy involved in flying this magnificent machine. The space shuttle Challenger was also lost in 1986 from aerodynamic breakup 73 seconds after launch.

We will lose the astounding capability of the space shuttle after the last flight in July (currently scheduled to land, by the way, on the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, July 20). The energies involved in a space shuttle flight are astonishing. We are taking a vehicle the size of a moderate jet airliner, rocketing to 17,500 mph into space, and then landing on a runway. In comparison, an average jet airliner flies just over 500 miles per hour.

Despite the success of the space shuttle program, NASA has currently become bureaucratic and political with obscure visions. China is likely to be the next country to land on the moon. Some may tend to think that the space program is too expensive, but the budget for NASA is less than one-half of 1 percent of total government expenditures, based on the 2011 budget.

Farewell to the space shuttle orbiters Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, Endeavour, and even Enterprise (the approach and landing test vehicle); thank you for keeping this nation preeminent in human space flight for 30 years, helping to complete the Space Station, and, personally, a wonderful career. We may never see another vehicle with the space shuttle's capability in our lifetime.

For further reading, please see my additional Associated Content stories regarding human space flight.

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