Today the Space Shuttle Discovery has returned safely from OUTER SPACE where it has been helping with the construction of the International Space Station or ISS (like it is subcontracted to the Ice Warriors!).
There is an underlying SADNESS to this voyage – and not just because of the very tragic BLOWING UP of two earlier Space Shuttles, Challenger and Columbia.
It is sad because there are not going to be very many more space shuttle journeys at all!
The last remaining shuttles: Discovery and Atlantis are due to retire in 2010 after only another 16 trips into space between them.
To be fair, the Space Shuttle was originally designed in the 1970's and in spite of all the upgrades that NASA have installed over the years, it is still like blasting a FORD CAPRI into orbit. And at $55 million a shot, it is only fractionally more fuel-efficient!
The Shuttles never really lived up to their promise to be a properly REUSABLE spaceship – like the sort that we are used to seeing on the telly. Not least because NASA insisted on taking them completely to pieces after every mission. Imagine doing that to the car after the weekly shopping trip! Also, the shuttle never managed to clock up as many space flights as had been planned – mostly due to enforced downtime after the disasters.
The American replacement is going to be called PROJECT CONSTELLATION!
[R: spot those "Star Trek" fans at work again!]
and this will be a new version of the old APOLLO type spaceships: a cone on top of a cylinder. But with better toilets! They have learned a thing or two from the RUSSIANS as well so that they will have some little wings with solar panels on and they will be able to land on land.
I think that these are not nearly as EXCITING as the Space Shuttle and feel like a retreat to the old days of space exploration. I suppose that it is more PRACTICAL since if you are not bringing most of your spaceship back you can launch more in the first place.
However, that is not the only alternative method of getting off the planet – even without hitching a lift to the Clangers on the moon. Alien shape-shifter Burt Rutan won the $10 million X Prize for building his futuristic spaceship called, er, SpaceShipOne. Now he has teamed up with fluffy entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson to try and build a bigger better version called SpaceShipTwo, with the hope of making a commercial fleet of five.
The first two are provisionally to be called VSS Enterprise and VSS Voyager.
[R: spot those "Star Trek" fans at work again, again!]
SpaceShipTwo will fly up 100 km, but this is still not into orbit and the passengers will only get a little bit of space travel. If it, er, takes off though then they will build a SpaceShipThree that will be capable of reaching the INFLATABLE SPACE HOTEL!
This is good, actually, because in order to really get into space we do not want great big PRESTIGE space stations that cost so many squillions that we can only build one. We want LOTS of them and cheaply.
So well done to the brave pilots of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Fly safely and maybe in the future we will get to see you up there!