Only Four Shuttle Flights Remain

Strikingly sad realisation that manned space-flight is at an all time low point. Those flights that are planned now are maintenance of the ailing space station, and tourism for the super-wealthy. As Ballard pointed out, the true space era lasted just fifteen years, from Gagarin’s journey to 1975, when Apollo’s capsule splashdown was not shown on TV.

“Only intelligent machines may one day grasp the joys of space travel, seeing the motion sculpture of the spaceflights as immense geometric sympohonies.” – The Atrocity Exhibition, 1993 edition, JG Ballard

2 Responses to “Only Four Shuttle Flights Remain”

  • Mattias Says:

    They’ve been talking about funding a few more missions. But even beyond that, I’m not really worried. You’ve got Branson pushing ahead with Virgin Galactic; you’ve got numerous other private companies like SpaceX building all sorts of rockets for orbit insertion – and some have real plans for manned missions as well. What we’re seeing is the decline of government-funded exploration and the (thus far unglamorous) rise of the private sector.

    …which is actually unfair, because our gov’t agencies have been doing impressive stuff lately as well. We’ve still got one fully and one partially functioning rover on Mars. We’ve got several satellites orbiting Mars. We’ve got several new space telescopes in addition to Hubble. We’ve got a probe flying towards Pluto. The Yanks have plans to launch an enormous nuclear-powered rover to Mars and the Russkies should launch something incredible in the next few years – a sample return mission /to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars./ ( That’s bloody amazing.

    So I wouldn’t mourn the Shuttles for too long.

  • Life Says:

    Jim, I empathise, but don’t be disheartened. Manned space travel is all different shades of exciting and downright inspiring, but the reality is we’ve proven we can do it now. We know if we as a species need or want to, we can launch ourselves off this rock and towards the stars. Contrary to the famed quote, it is actually a small step for mankind in the grand scheme of things, but a hugely important one. It’s also a step that doesn’t warrant painfully retreading at our expense right now, given the enormous costs and risks weighed against the actual technological and scientific progress it can possibly deliver back to us.

    What is now important to the long-term viability of space travel is putting the dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of ever-evolving probes and robotic explorers further out into the unknown than we can currently hope to project our own flesh and bone.

    It’s nowhere near as thrilling and it doesn’t stimulate the imagination a fraction as much as the visual of Neil Armstrong’s boot prints disturbing dust on an alien landscape, but arguably, it’s what is best for us right now. We absolutely need to understand and tame the void of space far more than we have managed before we can hope to effectively travel across, or even live in it, for extended periods of time. Efficient and durable robotics are simply the best tool for that job, and my hope – my belief – is that it will eventually pave the way for a whole new generation of successful human space travel.

    We will get there. It’s utterly inevitable. Just wait until that tipping point comes where our exponentially dwindling planetary resources become harder to extract than mining a local asteroid or a moon. Capitalism, for its many sins, has proven to be a ridiculously strong motivator for just about any kind of advancement. The lure of such great and vital rewards will push us forward to take the huge and necessary risks that would otherwise preclude us spreading out across the solar system and beyond.