I already wrote that my childhood dream job was to be an astronaut and that led to pursuing aerospace studies. In the same post I recalled a small toy of the Challenger Space Shuttle and how this toy contributed to that dream. Well, this post is just an homage paid to the Space Shuttle, or officially the NASA Space Transportation System, STS.
The last mission of the STS is scheduled for next Friday, July 8th. When the Atlantis is supposed to make the last lift-off for the mission STS-135 which, after 12 days, will end the 30 years of Shuttle flights.
During our last visit to the USA, Luca and I had the chance to see one of the Space Shuttle vehicles at the National Air & Space Museum (NASM). The vehicle at display there is the Enterprise.
I already mentioned in that post there that the Enterprise is the only vehicle of the fleet which never went to outer space. It was used for training purposes, to let the astronauts train the gliding descend they would have to make once the vehicle re-entered in the atmosphere. Thus, some parts of that vehicle are dummies.
The Enterprise hasn’t got the same thermal protection tiles since it wouldn’t need them, however its surface replicates the tiles with some kind of rubber ones so the flow of air around them would be the same as in the other vehicles. Another difference is in the engines at the back. The 3 engines that the Shuttle has at the back are its orbital maneuvering system, which allow it to adjust its orbit (they’re not atmospheric engines to propel the Shuttle in its flight back to Florida). Again, since the Enterprise would never go to outer space it wouldn’t need to adjust its orbit and the engines it has are just dummies to provide the same distribution of weight and forms in the vehicle.
I also mentioned in the previous post about the visit to NASM that the vehicle was going to be named Constitution until a public campaign achieved its goal of naming it Enterprise after the spaceship featured in Star Trek.
Find below some pictures of the Enterprise at NASM:
The Economist features this week 3 articles about the Space Shuttle program. I found parts of them very critic of the costs of the program, but nevertheless they give a somewhat complete picture of the history of the Space Shuttle and what may lay ahead for space exploration.
The different Shuttle vehicles (and other related materials) will be distributed among several museums and educational institutions. The Enterprise will leave the NASM and will go to the USS Intrepid in NYC while the Discovery will be hosted at NASM. You may find other locations in this article.
Finally, NASA just unveiled last Friday a wonderful documentary (80 minutes) about the history of the program: its launch, the vast engineering undertaking, the first mission, the Challenger and Columbia accidents, the improvements that the accidents brought, etc. To close the circle, the documentary is narrated by William Shatner, an actor of Worldly fame as he featured James T. Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek. See a small trailer of the video:
PD: In the full length video, in the images shown of the mission STS-95 which brought John Glenn back to Space at age 77, appears Pedro Duque a Spanish astronaut that coincidentally was my teacher at the aerospace engineering school.