back to article Wanna feel old? It is 10 years since the Space Shuttle left the launchpad for the last time

It is now more than 10 years since a Space Shuttle last launched from Kennedy Space Center, marking the end of the reusable orbiter era. The last Shuttle to launch was Atlantis on STS-135, the 135th mission in the Space Shuttle programme. The vehicle left pad 39A at 15:29 UTC on 8 July and was crewed by four astronauts, …

  1. cosmodrome

    Old? I remember the day when the first space shuttle was launched...

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      I also remember the Concorde test flights. This is supposed to be progress?

    2. Vulch

      As I've mentioned in past comments, I worked on the BBC coverage of the first shuttle orbital flight...

    3. Gary Stewart

      Pffft, I watched the first moon walk (actually I go all the way back to Mercury). Now, get off my

      lunar lander.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge
        Coat

        I was on set when we filmed it

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Me too. Also Buzz and Neils moon walk. Sadly, it feels like more than 10 years since the Shuttle last flew. Any surprise I felt was that it was "only" 10 years ago. It feels longer.

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Unhappy

        "Any surprise I felt was that it was "only" 10 years ago. It feels longer".

        My feeling too but I think this is because in February 1, 2003 the Columbia disintegrated during re-entry.

        I think that mentally ended the whole program right there almost 20 years ago.

    5. HildyJ Silver badge
      Windows

      Shuttle, Skylab, Apollo, Gemini, Mercury, the X-15 program, NASA itself (1958), and this little thing called Spunik.

      Only GenX and later think 10 years is a long time.

    6. el_oscuro

      I remember watching the Enterprise Shuttle's first test flight live. I was in junior high school for the first STS mission.

  2. Bartholomew

    I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

    Backwards: it’s the story of a space agency that has no spaceflight capability*, that then does low-orbit flights, then lands on moon.

    Shamelessly stolen from https://twitter.com/thomasfuchs/status/78835370816585728

    *(If you exclude the military/spy stuff. e.g. Boeing X-37 which I'm sure they are still connected).

    1. Adair Silver badge

      Re: I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

      While we continue throwing oxidised reaction mass out of a pipe at the back end we're not going anywhere fast enough to matter.

      Move along, nothing new to see here, just more of the same.

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        Re: I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

        What do you propose as the alternative? Ion drive? Doesn't have the instantaneous thrust needed. Nukes? Been looked at extensively on Project Orion. Very effective but with one or two nasty side effects.

        1. Vometia has insomnia. Again.

          Re: I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

          Unhelpfully, I'm reminded of this brief Not The Nine O'Clock News piece that took the video footage of the Shuttle taking off and enhanced it with the sounds of a knackered old diesel van trying to start up.

        2. Adair Silver badge

          Re: I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

          Sadly, I don't propose anything, it's simply a sobering statement of fact - chemical rockets are nothing more than overgrown fireworks. They really are very sloooow and massively inefficient. Until we come up with something considerably better we really are pretty much grounded.

          1. Ken G

            Re: I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

            Rotating hooks, plucking vehicles into orbit as they reach the Kármán line?

      2. Alan_Peery

        Re: I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

        The moon matters. Mars matters, The asteroids and their minerals will matter.

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: I always think of the great history of NASA backwards

      You're a little mean with NASA

      NASA means also Cassini, Dawn, New Horizons, Curiosity, Discovery, Perseverance...

      Not everything is rotten in the kingdom of NASA

  3. Number6

    I was there the week before it launched. Had it launched at the originally-scheduled time I would have seen it launch, but instead it waited until the afternoon of the day I arrived back in the UK so I got to watch it on TV instead.

  4. redpawn Silver badge

    Never saw a launch but..

    Did see the tank burn up from Mauna Kea on one of the earlier flights. Impressive colour as metals burned across a long arc in the sky, looking like a slow large meteor as it left a short lived train behind.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: Never saw a launch but..

      Was on Cocoa Beach for the STS-43 launch in 91, and even from that distance it was an epic experience - one of the beach bars had the countdown on the radio, and as it hit zero you could make out this small flame belching shape climbing into the sky, starting to form the iconic smoke trail curving off over the Atlantic, and the rolling thunder of sound that hit the beach a few seconds after the launch.

  5. ian 22
    Boffin

    Endeavor…

    I visited Endeavor in Los Angeles before the pandemic. She seemed both huge and fragile, an odd combination. The external tank was just outside the building, but wasn’t yet on official display. The fact that we puny humans could harness such huge energies with these fragile machines is testament to our greatness as a species.

    Can someone please help me? I think I’ve dislocated my shoulder while patting my back.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Endeavor…

      Not so off. Flying vehicles are in their own ways "fragile" because they need to be as much light as possible. Planes are "fragile" too. You can't build them as a "tank", or they won't take off....

      1. druck Silver badge

        Re: Endeavor…

        The A10 Thunderbolt begs to differ.

        1. RuffianXion

          Re: Endeavor…

          The A10 defies physics because it is supported on a bed of distilled angry and f*ck you!

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Endeavor…

            The A10 defies physics because it is supported on a bed of distilled angry and f*ck you!

            Well possibly. Either that, or it's so ugly the ground refuses to touch it.

        2. Potemkine! Silver badge

          Re: Endeavor…

          So does the Sturmovik, aka "the flying tank"!

      2. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

        Re: Endeavor…

        Antonov A-40 Krylya Tanka and the Slingsby-Baynes Bat

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good.

    Space is a waste of money.

    (If you're gonna downvote, at least have a cogent argument for how it specifically helps life here on

    1. ravenviz

      Re: Good.

      Lots of things are a waste of money.

      Space is just a publicly visible spend.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Good.

      We have no idea how it helps life here, that's why we have to spend the money to find out. Anything else would make life here pointless.

    3. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Good.

      > Space is a waste of money.

      Sorry, space is free. It is just there, have always been, will always be. You don't have to pay for it. :-p

      As for space exploration, there are a couple big benefits you chose to ignore: First the fundamental research. Lots of technology has been invented and/or perfected because of the various space programs. Much like WWII, the space program has pushed technological research out of its comfort zones, and we're now using the benefits in our daily lives (And speaking of benefits, there are also the long-term commercial ones (asteroid mining and such), but let's pass over those since "long term" is something incomprehensible for most people). Besides that, without the space program you wouldn't have GPS navigation, nation-wide television and world-wide telecommunications, to just mention the most obvious. The world would still be split up in small, line-of-sight cells, and everything between them would transit through congested and (thus) expensive cables. Yes, you, your family and friends might live within shouting distance of each other, but you still use Internet (apparently), and the high-tech products you use would most likely be more expensive in that world. Worldwide shipping without GPS is bound to be more complicated/expensive, especially by plane. Ever tried to use a sextant in a plane?

      But obviously if you choose to ignore all benefits of something, it is bound to look pretty much pointless.

      Last but not least, something to keep in mind: Humans have always been explorers. Not all of them of course, some were happy to live and die on the same spot they were born; But enough felt antsy enough to progressively cover the planet and colonize even the most inhospitable regions, for no reason at all. If you give them a way to move beyond the planet, they will, eventually. No point in denying it because you yourself are into other stuff, humanity will try to get of this rock, eventually. It's in our nature.

      (Didn't downvote you.)

    4. LDS Silver badge

      Football is a waste of money...

      Space?

      Resources on Earth are not infinite.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Good.

      enjoy your non-satellite media and brick-sized cell phones, which (without space exploration driving the technology forward in the early days) would be about 20 years behind where we actually are, In My Bombastic Opinion, were it not for the U.S. SPACE PROGRAM and NASA (in general).

      Also don't forget space telescopes and planetary exploration bots. All of those close-up photos of the outer planets. That kind of thing.

      Imagine instead that the USSR had "won" the space race. Or China. Probably worth more than just a passing thought.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Good.

        >Imagine instead that the USSR had "won" the space race

        Then Russia and China would be the only governments capable of launching people into orbit

        1. Ken G
          Facepalm

          Re: Good.

          Good job the merkins won then, so that Russia and China can't launch people into orbit.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Alien

        Re: Good.

        I agree with this.

        Sadly I think it is at least plausible that China will win the space race: they just haven't won it yet: it turns out the west declared victory half a century too early.

        (Same for the cold war: we thought we'd won in 1990, but we just completely underestimated the Russians' ability to retreat further than anyone thought possible and accept losses greater than anyone thought possible before finally winning. Not the first time that mistake has been made.)

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good.

      >>>If you're gonna downvote, at least have a cogent argument for how it specifically helps life here on

      It pisses people like you off. Money well spent.

    7. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Good.

      GPS for a start , now we can use a simple mobile phone to locate us when we get lost.

      It also lets us explore our own origins, like how and when the moon was formed.

      But the most revealing thing is just how much tech was developed aroudn the idea of ICBMs and launching stuff into orbit

    8. RyokuMas Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Good.

      I think that the last year and a half shows beyond any doubt why we absolutely need a manned space programme - and why the likes of Dr Zubrin and Mr Musk are right...

      Every major population center on this planet is within two days travel of any other. Now imagine if COVID had had the lethality of Ebola - the human race would have been all but wiped out before we got anywhere near a viable vaccine.

      All our eggs are in one basket which, over the last century, has become very small. It is vital to the future of our species that we get another basket, before the aforementioned hypothetical high-lethality pandemic hits. Or the next major asteroid strike. Or Yellowstone blows. Or - most likely - we end up wiping ourselves out because a bunch of fuckwits value profit over the only home we currently have.

      Look up the Drake equation - in particular, the last component.

    9. Alan_Peery

      Re: Good.

      Why waste time explaining the obvious to an Anonymous Corward?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Good.

        Why waste time explaining the obvious to an Anonymous Corward?

        Because just smugly ignoring people, or telling them they're stupid doesn't persuade them. Or anybody else for that matter. Also, this is a public discussion, so other people are reading it. Anyway, what's the purpose of any of us posting on here?

        But some good arguments for space.

        Weather satellites. Probably millions of lives have been saved by weather forecasting at this point. As well as loads and loads of money. In terms of disaster relief, avoiding disasters, evacuating people, steering ships and aircraft round storms. Also farmers use weather forecasting, we'd have a lot less food without spaceflight, and it would be a lot more expensive.

        Climate satellites. We've learned an awful lot about the climate from satellite data. if we fail to understand the rock we live on, we're likely to fuck it up even more than we already do.

        Quite a lot of geology is done by satellite. If you like stuff, that stuff is made of stuff, and at some basic point in the process the stuff to make the stuff has to get dug out of the ground. Satellites help us find that.

        Military Intelligence. Stop laughing at the back there! It's not always a contradiction in terms. Satellite early warning of potential ICBM launches kept the Cold War a bit safer. Actually both sides having reasonable intelligence information about each other, did the same. Spying is often a force for peace - because you can feel reasnably sure bad things aren't about to happen to you. Plus we get to see evidence of China committing crimes against humanity in Xinjiang with the help of satellite data. Useful stuff sometimes.

        Exploration. It seems to be a human instinct.

        Planetary defence. You may not believe in space, but does it know that? Ten years ago an metoerite exploded above Chelyabinsk with massive force. Fortunately it exploded rather high up, due to it's angle or approach vector, and so only smashed thousands of windows and injured a bunch of people. A bit lower and there'd have been a lot of deaths. 100 years before that a similar incident occurred in Tunguska, flattening all the trees for about 30km. If that had exploded above a city, it would have killed hundreds of thousands plus. Obviously it's 65m years since the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. Big rocks are out there, and one will hit the Earth again soon. We now have a better handle on the bigger stuff that could cause the end of civilisation (or just kill a few million people) - and we almost have the technology to deal with it. Given warning. With a few years notice, all you'd need is a spacecraft with a few spray cans of paint, to divert an incoming rock sufficiently. No Bruce Willis or nuclear weapons required.

        Communications. All that lovely comms stuff bringing us all closer.

        GPS. Self-explanatory. That's another tech that's saved quite a few lives, as well as being incredibly useful.

        Satellites. At the moment they're expensive and disposable. We now have a technology to refuel them, or at least grapple them in space and have the new satellite do the orbital control. Maybe it would be worth having people in space to do on-orbit repairs? Given the billions we spend on the things every year. But that's technology we're only reaching towards.

        International cooperation. Some high profile events during the Cold War. But then afterwards the ISS was supposed to be a symbol of cooperation. As well as a way to keep ex-Soviet rocket scientists working on space, rather than going abroad (to say Iran) to help them build ICBMs.

        Science. Lots of it. You never know if science will be useful, or just cool and interesting. It's good that we do it. We're a naturally curious species. It's worked for us so far, why change it?

        That's not a bad list. And by no means comprehensive.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Re: Good.

      at least have a cogent argument for how it specifically helps life here on [Earth]

      You mean like GPS, all the Earth observation satellites, significantly improved weather forecasts, those sorts of things?

      (And someone is going to say 'weather forecasts haven't improved'. Yes, they have: since the mid 20th century forecasts have improved by about a day per decade: today's 6-day forecast is about as good as 1970's 1-day forecast was. Things like storm forecasts (knowing where a hurricane is going to make landfall is a really big deal) have also got vastly better. There are practical limits to this process because of chaos in the system (you're unlikely ever to have a good forecast a month out), but we're not that close to them yet. Good forecasts save large numbers of lives, and as the weather becomes less stable as the climate warms they will probably save huge numbers of lives. Forecasts have improved because of improved models and the computing power to run them, but almost all the data for them comes from satellites.)

  7. pip25
    Unhappy

    Still feel bad about it

    Even today, we don't have a replacement for the shuttle program with similar capabilities. SpaceX is on the right track, but they cannot help with fixing the Hubble space telescope, for instance. A shuttle would have the hardware for it.

    Not to mention (to touch on less... tangible reasons :) ) how cool a space shuttle looked. Like a real, you know, spaceship. :) The kid in me (who wanted to be an astronaut) is heartbroken that it doesn't fly anymore.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Still feel bad about it

      a new shuttle design, with a more efficient (and re-usable) way of getting into orbit, could be the next phase. Perhaps a 2 or 3 stage rocket with "return to earth" capability from low orbit for the boosters, and a shuttle-like re-entry vehicle. That big fuel tank might have been needed to be in the design 40 years ago, but if you strip most of the engines off of the re-entry vehicle, give it internal fuel tanks only along with maneuvering jets, you could make the 1st (and maybe 2nd and/or 3rd stage if there is one) both re-usable like the Falcon rockets.

      the space shuttle's expense included those re-usable liquid fuel rockets on its tail end, which provided something like 30% of the thrust until the SRBs separated, then 100% to orbit. So they needed that massive fuel tank. But if the booster itself detaches and lands separately, you don't need the massive burn-up-in-atmosphere fuel tank, nor the massive engines on the tail end of the shuttle. Just small ones would do.

      so - a "component system" rather than a more monolithic one, yet avoiding the "throw away" mentaity so often seen in modern consumer stuff.

      worthy of note: SpaceX is avoiding making a booster that de-orbits, which would be considerably more expensive than one that never quite makes it out of the atmosphere (it is moving slower and doesn't have to do a re-entry so much, can use something like a parachute early in the process). Getting a 2nd and even a 3rd stage through re-entry to land like the 1st stage could involve shuttle-like tech, with minimal jettisoned stuff.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Still feel bad about it

        And breed tiny astronauts.

        The problem with the Space shuttle was the need to have 7 massively heavy squared jawed test pilots to unload each satelite.

        If you started with eg. jockeys and gymnasts and started breeding ever smaller astronauts then you could substantially reduce the mass of the crew and associated life support systems.

        So long as you used the same Peter Jackson + Hobbits camera trickery to make them look like 6ft6 Space Marines for the publicity shots they would be just as effective while saving a massive amount of launch mass

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Still feel bad about it

          No need to breed any, just hire "vertically challenged" people. They are already there, they just need some training.

          But I'm not sure reducing astronauts' mass by 20-30% will make any difference on a 2000 ton vessel. You might have slightly smaller seats and space suits, but all the support stuff (food, water, air) will be the same. With a full crew you might gain a couple hundred kilos, does that really make such a difference? It's about the weight of the paint...

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Still feel bad about it

            The food and water and air scales with the mass of astronauts - and so does the HVAC to support them.

            So either umpa-lumpas or better still supermodels, them you save the food entirely

            1. RyokuMas Silver badge
              Coffee/keyboard

              Re: Still feel bad about it

              "Space oompa-loompas"...

              ... well that made a dreary Monday morning a bit better, despite my gear nearly ending up wearing my first coffee of the day!

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Still feel bad about it

              You better let the models take a few grams with them.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The food and water and air scales with the mass of astronauts

              Sounds plausible, but are you sure it is so simple? What about the dependence on how much physical work they do?

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: The food and water and air scales with the mass of astronauts

                All the space shuttle next-generation crew would need to do is to press a button to launch a satelite and you could have the button on the ground.

                The purpose of the astronauts is mostly to justify having a manned space program cos that's some Buck Rogers shit for men while launching space telescopes on Ariane is like nerd science stuff

  8. Alan_Peery

    A song for the era -- Rush's Countdown

    https://open.spotify.com/track/2rIyuURzVLDjENwkmhZ5Gf

  9. msobkow Bronze badge

    Wanna feel *really* old? Remember that *first* launch...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was it Larry Niven who said...

    "I always knew I'd see the first man journey into space. I just never thought I'd see the last".

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