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One Unhappy Dependence Day For (American) Man – One Giant Leap for Robot Orbiter

Today the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down in Florida. STS-135 brought an end to the Space Shuttle program. As of today, there is no American government or commercial rocket capable of taking humans into orbit. For at least the next several years, transportation of human beings to the International Space Station or elsewhere in orbit will be the sole province of the Russian Federation. Perhaps by 2015, we’ll have human occupied spacecraft launched from this country again. Or not.

Our human astronauts have lost their independence and that makes me sad. We had a gap before, between the Apollo-Soyuz flight and the Shuttle’s first flight in 1981. But back then, not much else was happening in human space flight. There wasn’t anyone to rent from. That makes being left behind today all the more painful. Despite the artificial debt limit talks in Washington, we’re still the world’s largest economy. But we can’t afford space flight. Is this how Spain felt in the 1600s?

 But the departure of manned American spacecraft from the scene doesn’t mean the end of exploration. This past week the Dawn spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta, the first time any spacecraft has orbited an asteroid. After a year of studies, it will do what no spacecraft from any country has EVER done. It will leave its orbit around Vesta, fly to the asteroid Ceres and assume orbit around Ceres. These will be exciting times for astronomy buffs and these worldlets might hold clues to the origin of our solar system. The journey continues. We’re  just watching from our armchairs.

References:

Space Shuttle Era Ends with Atlantis Landing
Thu, 21 Jul 2011 08:52:20 AM UTC-0800
Accessed at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/rss_feed_above_snip_collection_archive_1.html

No More NASA Space Shuttles: What’s Next For US Spaceflight?
by Clara Moskowitz, SPACE.com Senior Writer
Date: 21 July 2011 Time: 02:43 PM ET
http://www.space.com/12387-nasa-american-spaceflight-future-plans.html

NASA Dawn Spacecraft Returns Close-Up Image of Asteroid Vesta
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/news/dawn20110718.html

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