Today, the last Space Shuttle flight was launched, and a lot of people are mourning.
Well, I’m not among them.
The Shuttle isn’t, contrary to much uninformed opinion, the Greatest Thing Ever Built, or a testimony to American prowess. It’s also not as though no other nation had the technology to construct a space shuttle. So why didn’t they?
Here’s why: the Shuttle was always a propaganda device, a ridiculously uneconomical ego trip.
The reason no other nation built a working shuttle was simply because it was so expensive. The USSR constructed one, the Buran, used it on a test flight, safely recovered it, considered the costs and abandoned it. The vast majority of space launches, both manned and unmanned, during the Shuttle era remained disposable rockets like the European Space Agency’s Ariane and the Russian, Chinese, Indian and Japanese space programmes.
Nor is the Shuttle anything like safe. Compared to disposable spaceships, the Shuttle has a woeful safety record; recall how the Challenger was destroyed by a fuel pipeline leak and the Columbia by a couple of loose tiles, and how every launch since has had people at NASA in palpitations.
Notice that while the Shuttle has been deep-sixed, the old Russian Soyuz continues as the backbone of the manned space programme, and will for the forseeable future. With non-military NASA budgets dropping by the day, I for one won’t hold my breath about a successor anytime soon, not unless it’s capable of bombing innocent nations halfway round the planet from up in orbit.
Unsafe and horrendously expensive, not to forget merely a political statement, good riddance, Shuttle.
I for one won’t miss you.