As I write this article, there’s no way to know the fate of the seven crew members aboard NASA’s STS-114 space ship, commonly known as Discovery. Will they return alive? Or will their heat-shield clad capsule disintegrate in the atmosphere like their predecessor did, Columbia.
The crew is currently planned to return in one piece at 4:46am eastern time Monday morning at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Their mission, which NASA says was a success, was to restock the space station and test out heat-tile repair techniques while in space.
When and if Discovery returns in-tact and safely, the mood will be bittersweet. Shortly after the shuttle was launched, NASA announced it was grounding the shuttle fleet indefinitely.
Why? The space agency is concerned that it has not effectively stopped the problem of flying debris -- that can damage the shuttle during liftoff, which is believed to have caused the Colombia disaster.
That didn’t seem to be on the mind of the crew as they prepared to de-pressurize and leave the space station.
“We thank them for being such great hosts, said an upbeat Discovery astronaut in a goodbye-ceremony aboard the International Space Station. The crew was aboard the space station, being hosted by two native residents of the station, for the majority of its time in space. During their tenure in space, two members of Discovery’s crew performed three space walks, venturing outside of the controlled space station environment.
I put my money on seeing seven “alive bodies in worm out space suits return to earth this morning. I really do believe all will go well for the crew. But I fear for the shuttle program. It seems that although the program has done so much for humanity, it is a chapter that is destined to be ended forever. By 2009, the shuttle program will be retired.
Before then, I hope our government agency charged with space exploration will make us proud. I hope they will send many more of man, woman, and even dog, into space. I hope to see more experiments, more ground breaking research, and more highly funded projects take place.
We already know the earth is rapidly reaching carrying capacity; we need some room to grow!