I still remember watching the many rocket launches while growing up. First there was Mercury and then Gemini, followed by Apollo and now the Space Shuttle program. That is, until later this year when the shuttle program comes to an end.
The space shuttle program is called the Space Transportation System; shuttle missions are referred to by their STS number. Shuttle missions have done many things from super-secret DOD missions to running groceries to the International Space Station. These final missions are geared toward prepping the ISS for the end of the shuttle program when smaller vehicles from other nations take things over.
The current mission with Atlantis is designated STS-132. One of three remaining shuttles, Atlantis started service in 1985 and is flying its 32nd mission. The normal things will occur on this flight - spacewalks, letters from home, and space station astronaut pickup/drop off. Not scheduled to fly again, Atlantis will act as the standby vehicle for the final shuttle flight this fall.
I've never seen a launch up close but I caught a number of lift-offs when I was stationed in Florida from 1985 to 1994. The most significant one was the Challenger in January, 1986. At that time I had just returned from a disassociated naval tour and was training for a new aircraft. I remember running outside to see the smoke plume and hearing co-workers describe it as they witnessed the disaster unfold. We flew search and rescue flights for the next two weeks directing surface ships to spotted debris earning the Coast Guard Unit Commendation for our efforts.
While it remains to be seen what direction will be taken in the future, NASA still has plenty of irons in the fire without the shuttle program. Visit www.nasa.gov for a list of all current missions.
Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in computer repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.