Sunday 20 August 2017

'It's like saying goodbye to a friend ... '

Despite a storied history and all the hype, the space shuttle has achieved very little, writes Gerard De Groot

So THE party's over. Yesterday at 10.56am GMT, the shuttle Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, bringing to an end NASA's 30-year experiment in reusable spacecraft. "It's been an incredible ride," said pilot Chris Ferguson. He feigned optimism, but couldn't explain what happens next. "It's a little sad because we're saying goodbye to an old friend."

The shuttle was indeed an old friend. It brings to mind that dysfunctional pal most of us have -- the handsome, carefree guy who can't hold down a job, but manages to camouflage his inadequacies with style and bravado. In the same way, NASA yesterday Tweeted lots of impressive numbers about Atlantis (33 flights, 4,848 orbits and 125,935,769 miles), but woefully failed to explain what had been achieved.

The shuttle story should really be titled 'Lost in Space'. About $210bn (€146bn) went towards a programme born of fantasy. The story came to an end because the American government finally accepted what experts realised at the beginning: the shuttle is an expensive and complicated way to provide what should be a cheap and simple service.

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