On Feb. 24, the space shuttle Discovery was launched into space for its final mission before NASA retires the U.S. space shuttle program.
Originally, the space shuttle program was pitched to Congress as a way to make space travel routine and maybe even make money in the process. The space shuttle's designers even intended it to be shot into space as often as once a week. But, in reality, sending the shuttle into orbit is a long, complicated process that usually takes months or years of preparation.
Space shuttle disasters such as those that affected the Challenger and Columbia missions also put a dent in NASA's high hopes for the shuttle program. Discovery, the program's most veteran shuttle, is showing signs of wear, with singed heat shields and other indications of stress from the re-entry process. Still, NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien says the shuttle was designed to make 100 flights, and it is being retired after only 39.
"There were all these studies which indicated the space shuttle fleet could be flown on the order of once a week, and that it would have airliner-like capability for turning it around once it got on the ground. But it's an incredibly complicated system. And there wasn't a full appreciation at the time for really how difficult it was to fly a reusable spacecraft to and from space." - NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien
"Discovery has flown the most missions, and you could argue the most significant missions, both return to flights after the Challenger and Columbia disasters, the deployment of the Hubble space telescope, numerous other significant events along the way, the second flight of John Glenn into space, after his long time away from space, after being the first American to orbit the Earth." - NewsHour Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien
1. What is NASA?
2. How is the space shuttle program different from earlier modes of space flight?
3. What two disasters put the space shuttle program in jeopardy and made people realize the dangers of space flight?
1. Now that the space shuttle program has ended, what do you think the future holds for manned space flight?
2. Do you think the space shuttle program was a success? Why or why not?
3. Do you think it's important to keep funding NASA and space exploration? Why or why not?