back to article Atlantis safely back to Earth

Space shuttle Atlantis today landed at Edwards Air Force Base at the end of its successful final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Atlantis lands at Edwards AFB. Pic: NASA The spacecraft touched down at 15:39 GMT. It was due to return Friday, but inclement weather forced NASA to twice postpone the homecoming. …


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  1. Anonymous John

    God, I'll miss it when it's retired.

    It looks like a spacecraft, as it can be flown back to land on a runway. Not landing at sea courtesy of a parachute.

    In a rational world, there would b enough going on in LEO that a vehicle with a payload bay and crew of seven would be useful. The USA wouldnt have just one manned vehicle at a time, with a gap of years before the replacement flies.

    It's a flawed design because of the vulnerable hea shield,, but 30 years on, would it be impossible to build a couple of new and safer shuttles?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    End of an Era

    A bit sad really. This was probably the last time a satellite will be serviced in space for decades at least. With the shuttle fleet retiring next year and it's replacement Ares V not having the capability of the shuttle, no country on the planet will possess the capability to rendezvous with and service satellites in space anymore.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's sad

    To see the dream of the shuttle dying before my eyes. I'm old enough to remember seeing the rollout of Enterprise (shame the name was changed) in the 70's on telly. Flawed, but still iconic.

  4. Seán

    America loses again

    The shuttle is an example of us poor design like the c17. A huge overweight underperforming chunk of obsolete high maintenance wastefulness It would probably have cost less to build and launch a second hubble (without a busted mirror) than to do the repairs in orbit.

  5. Garret Cotter

    Thank you

    From an HST user - congratulations and thanks to the crew of STS-125, everyone on the ground at NASA, in the aerospace industry and universities, and ultimately the taxpayers, who made this possible.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    She will be back

    I think America will build a replacement for the Shuttle once China comes up with their own version. USA has lost its way in the world.

    We need the USA that put a man on the Moon back.

    Not this Wall Street idiots damaged one.

  7. Anonymous John

    @ It's sad

    Ther.e was no name change. Enterprise was built for atmospheric test flights, and never flew in space.

    It's now in one of the Smithsonian's museums.

  8. Dave

    @Anonymous John

    I think that there were rather more flaws than just the heat-shield.

    When Challenger (?) was lost, the inquiry pointed out that the crew could have survived if they had simply been placed on top of the rocket, as with the Apollo missions, instead of immediately alongside all of the explosive material.

    This would also probably have prevented any damage to the heat-shield in the first place, saving the other shuttle entirely.

  9. George Loo

    I will miss these machines

    If you knew the inside story, the Shuttle had to survive a lot of compromises before the version you see in service. Of course, putting the astronauts on top would have been safer, but that has other disadvantages which would not have passed a budget committee.

    What you see being used for more than 25 years is a design that satisfied all the stakeholders, however bad it might seem to bystanders. I remember the first Shuttle commander astronaut John Young saying (or was it Bob Crippen) that the Shuttle was built by the whole of America. The doors came from one state, the OME from another. So it was job creating = politics.

  10. Robert Hill

    @Dave - Not flaws, design choices

    Sure, a post-mortem can easily say that "IF things had been done differently..."

    But that same post-mortem team didn't have to actually weigh those design choices against other factors - such as the stability of a much longer vehicle at lift-off, the capability to assemble and stage a taller vehicle, the gantry and interconnect issues, etc., etc., etc. Some of those may have been trivial to make accomodate a taller design, some may have made it nearly impossible. The point it, we don't know, and neither did the "experts" that were simply concerned with one fact -- could it have been more survivable. Unfortunately for engineers, there is rarely only one condition to optimize for...

    If you compare the loss rates of Shuttles to the loss rates of early sea-going exploration ships in the 1500s and 1600s...well, no contest, the Shuttle is a lot safer. And frankly, in terms of spaceflight, that IS where we are - the equivalent of the 1500s caravelles. Expect to lose a few, because that's what exploration is all about.

  11. Anonymous John

    @@Anonymous John

    The Challenger disaster was caused by a design flaw in the solid fuel boosters, which was sorted. Columbia was destroyed by foam falling off the tank. Largely solved and the Shuttle is safer now than it's ever been.

    The main concern now stems from the fact that the fleet is aging (nearly 30 years old). With what is known know, I'm sure the US could build a better and safer Shuttle. I hate the idea of losing a manned vehicle with its capabilities.

  12. Andy Barber

    Russian shuttle

    Why didn't the Russian shuttle work? If they can make other wonderful spacecraft, why did they give up on their shuttle?

  13. Moss Icely Spaceport


    Pretty soon Google will have released it's new "Galaxy-view" [tm] service, who needs Hubble?

  14. Kevin Reader

    As I remember...

    I s'pose it makes me a bit of a grey beard but I remember that the original Shuttle Concept was more like the shuttle on its way home from California, or Virgin's prototype/project.

    There was to be a high altitude lifting body and a space going vessel. The lifter was to carry the spaceship to high levels and then it would fly away. IIRC this has the advantage that the ship can also vector on more of a tangent towards an orbit rather than having to make a lot of height with vertical velocity and then convert/manufacture a lot of horizontal (or strictly orbital) velocity.

    Back when ITV was a proper TV station (and even Magpie looked at these things) I remember this all being in a "Space Annual" fronted or probably written in those days by a guy called "Peter ?????".

    This design was deemed too hard/expensive in the end. And so the kludging started. The ship gained launch engines but no room for fuel, thus the external tank. This was still not enough so you get the fireworks boosters. As I recall even the failure of the O-Rings was at least partially due to a change in the operating temperatures/cycles between design and implementation and use. A lot like IT projects really but sadly more deadly (than most). Also lots of the ship had to come back, originally all of it. This was a mixture of early ecological thinking combined with a political/economic splash - ie. reusable = cheaper (even if its not) = faster turn around. The idea it was quicker to relaunch than to build and test. Like with aircraft - we fly those quite a few times in their lifespan.

    There was also the US Military/NASA tradition of specifying most of the technology to crazy high levels, like those $M coffee machines on AWACs and Nimrods. Then skimping on the new fancy - hard for executives to understand stuff. (Hey, it is a lot like software projects!). Remember the design used several Bubble Memory Packs that were a) huge - small luggage sized and b) held about 64 KBytes. Laugh, but dynamic RAM either had not been invented or was expected to be vulnerable to alpha particles flipping the bits. As I recall even retail dRAM in 1982/3 indicated that you should use parity to protect against random-bit-errors! Not something we even engineer for in current earthbound PCs packing 4 GBytes. So times change. Although I think I'd like error correction or 3-way redundancy at 100 miles high.

    Coat - mines the one with a James Burke special in the pocket.

  15. Kevin Reader

    Got it! Addendum to earlier comment

    It was Peter Fairley as mentioned here, he was Magpie's space correspondent (ie. Annual = ABC of Space) and published a number of editions of "Peter Fairley's Space Annual 19xx". There can be found on alibris and even eBay. The 1969 edition is on there now and I recall having it so it might be that edition with the shuttle concept information in it. Basically it was downhill all the way from then.

    Some of the images I just found on this page (section "The Space Shuttle") come from Fairley's Space Annual. You can see artists impressions of the real shuttle.

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