back to article End of an era: Atlantis hits the tarmac

The US's space shuttle programme wrapped today at 09:57 GMT, as Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis on the tarmac shortly after landing this morning. Pic: NASA Commander Chris Ferguson, pilot Doug Hurley, and mission specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim became the last astronauts to fly a shuttle at …


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  1. Thomas 4

    And with the end of the shuttle program

    ....comes the end of hope for future manned space exploration in our lifetime. How depressing and "economically sensible". *spits*

    1. Christoph

      only the US bit

      Russia has an ongoing manned space program using an extremely successful craft. China is on its way. Even Europe has vague plans. India might manage something.

      1. Adam Foxton

        Not to mention

        the American private sector with 'SpaceX'

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    End of an era indeed

    I remember I was just painting the my first ever student room when the first shuttle was launched. I will raise a glass to the guys at NASA, who despite many flaws and problems, still gave us a lot to cheer about

  3. hplasm

    Another era ends.

    And now we return you to "The Golden Age of Ballooning..."

    1. Elmer Phud

      Forgetting something?

      With the demise of Atlantis we also see the birth of LOHAN.

      Five years time and we'll have El Reg as well as Elon.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Expert Coverage

    I hope we were all watching live on the BBC News channel so as to benefit from the BBC's usually high calibre coverage of scientific issues.

    On-site reporter Andy Galllagher included this in his analysis of the Shuttle's legacy:

    "...enhanced our understanding of astrology..."

  5. Andus McCoatover

    Thank You, God.

    They're safe.

    'Nuff said.

    Think I'll have another can of tramp-juice. Beautiful tune at the moment on the radio (in Finnish, name I don't know) which iseems perfect for this moment.

    End, indeed, of an era.

    Tears, again. Dammit.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    A sad day for the engineering nerds of the world as we retire what was an engineering marvel of its time. And like Concorde before it, not a replacement in sight.

    How "sensible" we have become, and how boring :(

    Cheers mate!


  7. Zog The Undeniable

    Never mind

    We'll always have PARIS.

  8. GrahamT

    One era ends, another begins

    It's all down to LOHAN now.

  9. Rob


    Looking at the footage makes me think NASA have just borrowed a load of clips from the 70's (I know they haven't but the quality of it and that fact that most of the Mission Control people look like they have been there since the 70's).

    'Eat This' icon 'cause it looks the closest to a rocket plume.

  10. banjomike

    In the dark

    I watched the last hour or so on NASA TV and very interesting it was. The only question I have is, why didn't they land in daylight? All the planning that went into this last ever, final etc, flight and they land the thing in the dark!

    1. simon 43

      orbit 200

      I was thinking the same as banjomike... the imagery would have been so much better.

      They even published information for the orbit 201 deorbit burn which would have seen touchdown at around 0730hrs local - in the early morning daylight!

      Still, an era has ended today - I followed the programme from early on and remember the Enterprise trials as much as STS-1... not sure a 'man on a stick' will be quite the same!

      Cheers to all those involved in making the last 30 odd Years interesting for an Earth-bound nerd!

      1. Andrew Hodgkinson

        Because of the heat

        On NASA TV, a commentator explained that they land early so that the crew working on the ground with the shuttle after it has landed don't have to endure midday Florida heat.

  11. The Serpent

    So long STS..

    ..and thanks for all the fish. Vladimir & Branson - it's over to you.

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Not forgetting ...

      The Russians (first in the game and still going strong), and the Chinese. Possibly coming soon to an orbit near you: India and maybe if they can sort out the internal squabbles ESA - though I kinda doubt it.

      1. The Serpent

        I wonder

        I do wonder if the Chinese and possibly the Indian contributions may end up being financial ones to the private enterprises (ho ho), as opposed to government mandated space programmes. They have no self-induced pride to save by taking a pragmatic approach, which could be the kick that reliable, regular, economical space travel needs. Ah well, only time will tell.

        1. Pete 2 Silver badge

          China and India

          > They have no self-induced pride to save

          Oh, I don't know. Given that this is their century (unless something goes dramatically wrong) I would suggest that a space presence would be a fitting manifestation - just as it was for the americans in their century.

          It's also possible (probable?) that India and China, being the two most populous countries, will be the natural competitors for power, influence and raw materials. In which case a space-race might be a better dissipation of that competitiveness than warfare.

  12. b166er


    It's all doom and gloom with you lot today, eh?

    There's plenty of growth in the manned space exploration sector, perhaps you're very old and won't see the fruits of those labours?!

    The shuttle was an excellent accomplishment, but the orbiter vehicle was also compromised from the start and VERY expensive. The USA could really do with good healthcare. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of the space shuttle and there are great memories for all because of the programme, but it's time to move on. Perhaps an international effort like the ISS?

    A fond farewell indeed, but there's really no need for such pessimism.

    1. Bill B

      Yup, plenty of growth

      Pretty sure the Chines would be delighted to pick up the flag of manned exploration. Looks like they're well on the way. I wouldn't like to bet on who will be first to Mars.

      I do find it rather ironic, though, that the States is now paying Russia to take people to the ISS and paying Europe to convey goods.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Space v healthcare

      So space and healthcare are mutually exclusive?


    3. Gary B.


      1) You do realize that NASA's budget is just a very small drop in a very large bucket, right? If you shifted, say, 100% of NASA's budget to healthcare (for instance), the healthcare budget would hardly even notice there was money added to it. There's no reason we can't have space travel AND healthcare.

      2) An "international effort" like the ISS, eh? The U.S. ended up contributing much more than its own fair share of financing and construction efforts. Of course, we've now just thrown away the only vehicle we had of getting ourselves to a space station largely constructed through US effort (not to belittle the efforts of the other countries that contributed).

      1. Ian Yates

        only vehicle

        I assume by "we" you mean Americans, because Russia still have Proton and Soyuz. Perhaps they aren't quite as elegant, but they do the job.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Plenty of reasons, if you don't need them to make sense

        "There's no reason we can't have space travel AND healthcare."

        Financially, you're absolutely right. Neither one of those is expensive compared to the benefits it can offer. NASA's "astronomical" budget is loose change down the back of the couch compared to everything else. Access to healthcare is a no-brainer.

        Politically, not so much. Plenty of nickel-and-dime-obsessed no-brains running the show, unfortunately.

  13. Circadian

    obligatory xkcd link

    Don't forget to take a look at the hover-text for it too


  14. wiggers


    to the day since that Armstrong chap first planted his boot in the moon dust.

    1. mark11727
      Thumb Up


      There's that number again.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      of course

      Course the sadder thing about that graph is that the Space Shuttle bears no relevance to it what so ever being that it's tied entirely to the Saturn V

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did they leave anyone out there?

    Did they?

  16. steward

    Why don't we have money for the space program?

    Because al-Qaeda successfully lured the US into an unwinnable, expensive, "low-intensity conflict" in Iraq and Afghanistan, bankrupting the US.

    Terrorists: 1. US Government, Republicans (GWB) and Democrats (BHO): 0

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters


      Sure, it's all al-Qaeda's fault, the US and UK couldn't possibly have been lured by getting oil pretty much for free from Iraq, and controlling the pipelines in Afghanistan now, could they?

      If 911 had been executed by terrorists from a country which has no resources to exploit would we have spent so much time and money at war with them? I think not.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Oh yus!

        I think America still has some natural resources, plus some caves to practice with.

  17. Beachrider

    Mischevious talk...

    The USA still has an unmanned program that has NO rival. Explorations to Venus, Mars, Saturn and Pluto are all still active (and expensive).

    It is fair to deride NASA for its lack of Manned-Mission progress. Hopefully, the retirement of the Space Shuttle now opens the door to a new era of much-less-expensive and much-more-flexible manned missions.

  18. Gil Grissum


    I don't think we can keep a multi-billion dollar financed foreign war and a space program going at the same time we're on a deadline to prevent default of government debt. Something had to go and since we can't eject any of the useless congressmen or senators into space, we had to shut the program down. It would be funny if the Chinese come up with a better space craft than the shuttle, that goes farther and has no "accidents".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      The chinese can't build a train

      without it falling off a bridge. They're a loooooooong way from being able to make even shuttle-level 'safe' space vehicles.

  19. Paul RND*1000

    Meaningless Platitudes

    "this great space-faring nation"

    Which hasn't sent a living creature of any sort beyond low earth orbit since just before I was born and which now has to rely on other great space-faring nations to even get to low earth orbit. By that standard we can call Switzerland a great sea-faring nation.

    Sending probes into space is quite a technological achievement. But it isn't "space faring".

    "one thing's indisputable: America's not going to stop exploring"

    I presume he means our exceptional unmanned programs, which have done some excellent work. They're no substitute for manned exploration though, which we haven't done at all since Apollo was canned.

    India vs China in manned exploration, now that could get interesting. They may not be first to the Moon but they're driven by beating each other to it and being the first nation to land humans on Mars would be quite the coup. They have the pride, willpower, and desire to prove themselves which we once had, before we got complacent.

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    You would *never* believe that both Spacex and Orbital have contracts to get the US back to LEO

    Not forgetting Sierra Nevada and Xcor.

    NASA had some some great facilities and some very bright people.

    It still does.

    And by acting as *advisors* to the companies that will build these vehicles the US will return to space *much* faster than NASA could build its own NASA only vehicles.

    Consider the X33, "Spaceplane", SLI, Ares 1.

    *All* were attempts to replace the Shuttle with a NASA specific, NASA *unique* solution.

    All ate a *shed load* of money and kept some people employed (for a while) who would not have been (and some perhaps who should not have been).

    Why shouldn't a more requirement driven for profit approach work?

    NASA was "high tech" when *one* other nation on Earth could do what it does. Now the list includes India, China, Iraq (just about) and North Korea is getting closer. In fact *only* the UK of the G8 *abandoned* its ability to carry out space launch.

    I think the days of a vehicle built *by* and *for* NASA's sole use is over and they should give up the monopoly on crewed spaceflight in the US (which is essentially what some parts of NASA has fought tooth and nail to preserve).

    So have a few tears and crack a few bottles of the milk of amnesia.

    Think of it as the end of the *beginning* of *reusable* crewed space flight.

    Remember the Shuttle as the *start* of the art in RLV's, not the end.

  21. Jemma

    ...I feel a great disturbance in the force...

    As if a million cold-war-apologists cried out in agony as they were forced to meet reality.

    It was old hat and overpriced when it flew the first time and it was older hat and overhyped when it flew the last time.

    I was half expecting it to do shoutout to the refit NCC-1701 and spontaneously explode but I guess I should be thankful that the persons concerned got back in one piece.

    The planet as a whole can do so much better than this - it was a dismal saga of balls-ups, compromises, human error/arrogance/stupidity with very few great moments shining through to be fair.

    Yes, it was a start, but it wasn't a very inspiring one, and that should be one of the lessons. Let everyone get involved, not just the US. Each nation on earth has its own weaknesses and strengths, in both scientific and emotional viewpoints and methodologies. For example -

    British - dull, but does the job - unless its in a war when our concept of war as 'cricket with live hand grenades' causes us problems.

    German - innovative, and well built - but when the innovative goes wrong - the plot can be lost in cock ups of monumental proportions.

    American - Outsource it - build it big - its got a single piston engine, well its gotta be over 7 tonnes all up then - war, its best if you are on the opposing side - IFF has two distinct meanings for the rest of the world and the US - Worldwide it means Identify Friend/Foe - US Idiotic Friendly Fire (eg 19 Abrams lost in GW1 - 14 of which are friendly fire kills).

    India - latterly, nick and re-engineer all of the British castoffs (then sell them back to us at twice the price) - currently the perfect embodiment of the KISS school of design.

    and so on...

    Mix those all together and we have the possibility of something monumental (bags I the natty white uniform with the Grand Admirals insignia).

    For all the things the shuttle was and wasn't it was the result of nothing more than worldwide political infighting and a single, and in a lot of ways very blinkered worldview (and I don't mean that to refer to the US alone, all countries are guilty of that little issue), now we have shed that to a substantial extent... I would love to see what we are capable of.

    I think we might even surprise ourselves...

  22. b166er


    you're right that healthcare costs far more than space shuttles and the two are not mutually exclusive.

    However, it is still time to move on.

    If the human race could avoid ridiculous conflicts, we could probably be colonizing Mars by now. (and have a fantastic healthcare/education system)

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    In the words of that great philospher Vincent Jones

    "It's been emotional"

  24. Anonymous Coward

    PR over safety

    According to wikipedia the first launch was April 12 1981 at 12.00.03. That's twenty years to the day since Gagarin flew. That alone is enough of a PR exercise, but to have made what was obviously an intended midday launch just shows how they've gone from PR-over-safety to safety-dictates-everything today, including landing in darkness when nobody can see it.

    Good lord.

  25. Beachrider

    I feel dizzy again...

    Hmmm. A lot of spinning is going on...

    NASA has been committed to sending people no-more-than 400 miles above earth for 30 years. The Space Shuttle was a very restrictive program. It needed deepspace transfer stations to enable anything further out than that. NONE of the space station plans (since Reagan's Liberty) had any pretense for that.

    NASA is now being made to remap its resources onto more-flexible platforms that go deeper into space. I am dying to see where ANYONE else would even attempt such a plan over the next ten years. Show me the Chinese and Indian platforms to do this. They have nice paper plans, though. Ride on those, if you like.

    Everyone else is positioning to do LEO work. That stuff is fantastically important, too. I say, let the commercial vendors develop cost-effective ways of doing LEO work. Let the Russians compete with them (to be fair, EVERYONE is swiping chemical-rocket tech from advances that the Russians made over the past 15 years).

    The world moves on...

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