NOTE: All image credits go to NASA
I hope you are all safe and doing well.
It’s been a while since we last met. The world has continued to turn, and COVID continues its sporadic grasp around the globe. Case numbers that were optimistically declining have begun to increase once more with the advent of the Delta variant of the virus. With the increased spread of the virus, it is important to continue masking up and taking necessary precautions.
In today’s post, we’ll be continuing our discussion of the Space Shuttle, moving forwards into the last decade of the first millennium of the common era. We’ll talk about the various advances that the Shuttle was able to achieve, as well as the important science that they were able to put into orbit around the Earth.
So without further ado, let’s begin. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!
The last time we checked up on the Space Shuttle, things were not in good shape. The program, NASA, and the world as a whole were reeling from the Challenger disaster. It was the most deadly disaster to ever strike NASA till that point; it became a matter of paramount importance that NASA build up from the mission and not let the tragedy define their progress forwards.
In order to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future, NASA invested heavily on improving the systems of the Space Shuttle, boosting the testing and double-checking of each of the components, and working to ensure that the craft would be safer for astronauts in the future.
The first Shuttle launch following the Challenger was STS-26, where the Discovery orbiter took to the skies and launched a relay satellite into orbit. It was termed the “return to flight” mission, and several more precautions were taken in order to help prevent a disaster like Challenger; all the astronauts on the mission wore pressure suits and had bail capabilities. Further, only veteran astronauts were chosen for the mission.
The launch of STS-26 was critical. It would be NASA’s test of rebuilding from the tragedy of the Challenger. It would prove to the world—if it was successful—that NASA could build up from setbacks, that no matter how terrible things went, NASA could be resilient and put more astronauts safely into orbit.
The mission was a tremendous success. And it set the tone for the developments to follow. To replace the Challenger orbiter, a new orbiter was built: Atlantis, which further boosted the development of the program. Here is a list of notable Shuttle missions in the 1990s:
- STS-31, the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope
- STS-49, first three-person spacewalk
- STS-61, first Hubble repair mission
- STS-71, the docking of the Shuttle at the Russian space station
- STS-83, first mission to build the International Space Station
The Golden Era of the Space Shuttle was underway. NASA had built back from disaster and tragedy, and had built back stronger. The program was flourishing, and the future looked golden.
In retrospect, knowing what was to come may dampen this optimism. But, in my opinion, it makes it more significant that NASA was able to build back not once but twice. That resilience is the strongest emotion in the face of disaster.
And that is a lesson we all should take to heart.