N.A.S.A. is preparing Space Shuttle Atlantis for its final journey into space on a mission to resupply the International Space Station (I.S.S.). Once the space station is restocked, the space shuttle program will have outlived its usefulness. For those who remember the political compromises that made the shuttle program the centerpiece of American space flight, few tears will likely be shed over the program’s termination. For decades, the program consumed N.A.S.A.’s budget at the expense of smaller, less risky and less expensive missions.
What’s the Big Idea?
Between those who wanted a vastly more ambitious space program in the 1970s and those who thought N.A.S.A. was a waste of money, there was Richard Nixon. It was his compromise that would eventually leave both sides dissatisfied. The shuttle program has run a decade over schedule and tens of billions over budget while being limited to low Earth orbit. Still, its achievements are noteworthy. Repairing the Hubble Space Telescope, for example, would have been impossible without the shuttle. The shuttle program’s reputation may rest on what gains are ultimately made by the I.S.S.