Atlantis with four astronauts visited the International Space Station returned to Earth on Thursday, marking the end of 30 years of age.
2,000 people gathered near the landing site, thousands filled the space center and countless others watched from afar this historic event. This day ended with the most long-term program of space flights by NASA. "Serving the world for more than 30 years, the space shuttles have won a place of honor in history. And the time a final stop," - said the commander Christopher Ferguson.
Landing occurred at dusk, just before dawn, after 30 years and three months after the first shuttle flight in 1981. It will take three to five years, according to optimistic estimates, before the Americans again launch a spacecraft from its site. Private companies seized the baton from NASA, competing with each other for the right to be the first.
Over its 30-year history, NASA space shuttles have made a contribution to the reconstruction of the Hubble, the creation of a space station, which is the largest object in orbit, and allowed to go into space to women, minorities, schoolteachers, and even the prince.
This mission was the 135th for the space shuttle, which flew a total of more than 872 million miles and circled around the Earth more than 21,500 times over the past three decades. On five shuttles had to fly into space 355 people from 16 countries, spending in space 1333 days - almost four years.
Two shuttles, Challenger and Columbia crashed, one on the run, the other when returning to Earth. Thus, fourteen lives were lost.
The decision to end the shuttle program was made seven years ago, after about a year after the Columbia tragedy. President Barack Obama has canceled plans to President George W. Bush’s lunar program, preferring the expedition to an asteroid and Mars.
Desperate attempts to save the program "Space Shuttle" taken, among others, the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong, and the founder of the Mission Control Center, Christopher Kraft, were unsuccessful.
As explained by the NASA leadership, the agency is forced to abandon the shuttle in order to free up funds to fly on low-Earth orbit. According to Obama’s plan, the first goal was an asteroid by 2025, followed by a Mars in the 2030’s.
It is expected that private companies will take over the provision of services for the delivery of cargo to the space station, which will last at least another ten years. The first commercial flight is scheduled for the current year. The company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is about to launch her developed rockets and spacecraft from Cape Canaveral.
At the same time, the development of technologies to deliver astronauts into space will take a few more years.
The company SpaceX says that could develop similar technology for three years, when NASA will have her unconditional support. In this case, station managers believe that it will take five years. But skeptics called a period of 10 years - so much, in their opinion, the need to ensure that re-run of astronauts into space from U.S. soil. Until then, NASA astronauts will be delivered to the ISS by the Russian Union at a cost of $ 10 million per seat.