Aviation Week article March, 2011 Posted by Mark Carreau
As Discovery’s astronauts settled onto the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on March 9 it was inescapably clear the long-running U.S. Space Shuttle Program is in de-orbit prep.
Endeavour and Atlantis are scheduled to fly for the final time within several weeks.
What’s less certain is how the three-decade long flight test program will be judged by its investors, the American public. Will the shuttle’s impressive capabilities be truly missed? Or were the winged orbiters, with their inability to leave low Earth orbit, an expensive detour to missions grander than Apollo’s?
“Wings In Orbit: Scientific and Engineering Legacies of the Space Shuttle,” is a 553-page, firsthand account of the efforts to develop and sustain a reusable spacecraft with the technologies of the sixties and seventies. The effort is focused on the shuttle program’s heritage, operational strategy, engineering innovation and contributions to science, education and as well as its social legacy,
“The shuttle was to be the first commercially successful space transport,” Wings quickly advises with surprising candor. “This impossible leap was not realized, an unrealistic goal that appears patently obvious in retrospect, yet it haunts the history of the shuttle to this day.”
In all, Wings combines contributions from more than 325 men and women whose professional careers were intertwined with the shuttle’s accomplishments and limitations as well as others who were swept up because of the program’s long run and the wide assortment of missions.
The orbiters ushered satellites into space for astronomers, climate researchers, national security interests, planetary scientists and commercial satellite operators. They’ve flown as temporary space stations for biologists, biotechnologists, chemists, medical researchers and physicists. Shuttle crews have salvaged and repaired satellites.
The orbiters played a uniquely visible role in the unification of former Cold War adversaries, strengthened global partnerships with the assembly of the International Space Station and helped to shatter gender, racial and cultural barriers to space flight. On occasion, they’ve introduced the significance of science and math to the classroom.
Wings is the brainchild of Dr. Helen W. Lane, chief nutritionist at the Johnson Space Center and Manager of JSC’s University Research and Affairs Office. Lane was grocery shopping during Discovery’s STS-114 return-to-flight mission in 2005, NASA’s first bid to recover from the Columbia tragedy, when she was stopped by an old friend, a chemical engineer.
Lane recalls the unexpected exchange: “He berated me: NASA never does anything new, just orbits the Earth. Nothing came out of the space shuttle. NASA never does any science, period.”
Lane embraced the criticism as a challenge to present the shuttle story from the insider’s perspective. She found an ally in Wayne Hale, the articulate former NASA shuttle program manager and long-time flight director.
With Lane serving as Editor-in-Chief and Hale as Executive Editor, they enlisted the best and brightest of their colleagues in an effort to present the shuttle story to those among NASA’s stockholders with an appreciation for science and technology.
If the shuttle’s milestones matter not so much to taxpayers in the current trying economic times, they may to the aspiring engineers and historians who wonder how they came about
Perhaps, the “lessons learned” from the shuttle era will help to temper wider expectations as the nation attempts to foster new commercial space transportation capabilities and look beyond the human exploration of the Moon. These will be difficult pursuits.
Published by the Johnson Space Center and the Government Printing Office, Wings In Orbit is scheduled for an April 8 release through major book stores, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, as well as at http://www.shopNASA.com.
Reviews from Goodreads:
Steve posted four stars on this title in Goodreads and had this to say, "Edited and written by individuals involved in the Shuttle Program, "Wings in Orbit" is one book every space buff must have in their collection. Certainly there are other more technical books on the program. Wings, given the limitations, does a good job of giving an over view of what was accomplished in the 30 year program."