The Final Frontier

Picture: REUTERS/Joe Skipper

If the psudonym “Mission Control” didn’t give it away, we LOVE outer space in these parts. That’s why we watched the final flight of Space Shuttle Discovery with awe and sadness in our hearts.

Hopefully I can impart a little of my family’s enthusiasm for space on you and you’ll sit down with your kids and teach them all about how vast our universe is. Here’s a little history lesson about the orbiters:

Enterprise

Enterprise was the first space shuttle orbiter, however it was only used for flights in the atmosphere. It had no propulsion system so it was never used for space flight, took off from the back of a modified Boeing-747 cargo plane. It’s first flight was February 15, 1977 and was retired after completion of critical testing.

Columbia

Columbia was the first orbiter to make it into space. It completed 27 missions before being destroyed during re-entry on February 1, 2003.  They determined that the cause of destruction was because a piece of insulation foam broke off during take-off and struck the Shuttle’s thermal protection system.

Challenger

After that came Challenger which completed 9 missions before breaking apart 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986. Part of the seal of the right solid rocket booster (the really big rockets to either side) failed allowing hot gas from within the rocket to leak out to the external fuel tank which lead to structural failure and boom. The space shuttle program was grounded for 2 1/2 years.

Discovery

Discovery was next and became NASA’s Orbital Fleet leader. It flew 39 missions over 27 years and spend a cumulative total of one full year in space. Discovery was the one that flew the Hubble Telescope into orbit.

Atlantis

Atlantis followed and flew 33 missions. It was responsible for the Shuttle-Mir missions and performed the first on-orbit US crew exchange. It completed the last ever shuttle flight on July 27, 2011.

Endeavour

Endeavour was the final shuttle to be build and was a replacement for Challenger. It was built from spare parts originally meant for Challenger and leftover parts from Discovery and Atlantis. It flew 25 missions, mostly to the International Space Station.

International Space Station

Parting thought, did you realize that there are people living in outer space right this very second on the international space station? You can actually see the International Space Station with your naked eye! Look just before sunrise or after sunset, and it looks like a slow moving, bright, white dot, slowly crossing the sky in 2 to 5 minutes.

And how awesome is this site - http://spacestationlive.jsc.nasa.gov/timeline/index.html You can check out the space station live!

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The Space Cadets Enterprise is 3 yrs 7 months, Discovery is 1 year 1 month, and seeing as how it’s probably bad luck to name my children after orbiters that blew  up, I better not have more than 4 children.

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