On April 14, 1981, Space Shuttle Colombia completed its first test mission and thus started a new era in NASA's human space flight. Today, the Shuttles seem like ancient history
At least I feel old knowing that it's now almost 9 years ago that I watched Space Shuttle Atlantis leave Kennedy Space Center for the last time in 2012.
When Space Shuttle Colombia launched on 12. April 1981, it became the world's first reusable manned spacecraft. And while it's an impressive piece of engineering, especially when you consider the state of technology 40 years ago, it wasn't without its flaws and controversies.
Being in the space sector, one automatically becomes a fan and supporter of everything NASA and other space agencies and ambitious private companies do. Perhaps it's because of our innate wish to see the frontiers in space pushed, or simply our respect for those who put in the effort to make it happen. But with a scarcity of available resources and human lives on the line, it is still important to be critical of individual programs in the pursuit of getting as much value from them as possible.
The Shuttle was expensive, both in terms of dollars spent and human lives lost. Coming in at $450 million USD for each mission, the Shuttle would have looked far too expensive in today's market. And that's without factoring in inflation. Add to that 14 lost astronauts and one has good reasons to question whether or not it should have existed to begin with.
But in my opinion, that's what pushing the frontiers of knowledge "should" look like. Of course, it isn't easy to consider the price of lives lost. But as Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, I am proud to be part of a species where a subset of its members willingly put their lives at risk to push the boundaries of our existence.
It is difficult to imagine where we would be today without the Shuttle Era, as it laid the foundation for so much that we're doing today. From constructing the ISS, to harvesting data on the effects of human existence in space, or carrying out scientific experiments.
Despite its cost and inefficiencies, it is a part of our history that we should be both proud and impressed by. So I think today should be a day worth celebrating. Not just for the space community, but for anyone who believes in the capabilities we humans have to do amazing things.
At least, I enjoyed looking back at my fond memories of seeing the Shuttles myself!