AirTalk for July 8, 2011

NASA’s last shuttle blasts off

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(L-R) Space shuttle Atlantis STS-135 pilot Douglas Hurley, mission specialist Sandra Magnus, commander Christopher Ferguson and mission specialist Rex Walheim walk out of the NASA Operations and Checkout building hours before their scheduled launch at Kennedy Space Center.

In a momentous event, the space shuttle Atlantis launched from The Kennedy Space Center in Florida this morning. It marks the beginning of the end of NASA’s shuttle program. Its achievements included the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, the assembly of the International Space Station and multiple space probe deployments. The goal of the program was to provide regular trips to low earth orbit, but a pair of tragedies reminded NASA that space travel was not to be as routine as experts had hoped. Challenger exploded right after lift-off in 1986, and Columbia disintegrated during atmospheric re-entry in 2003. Fourteen astronauts lost their lives on the pair of fated missions. The end of the shuttle program leaves a gap in America’s ability to launch manned missions into space. Ongoing service missions to the ISS will be left to the Russian space program. What is the future of the American space program? What did we learn from the space shuttle missions?

Guest:

Bill Nye, The Science Guy; Executive Director of The Planetary Society; TV presenter on "The 100 Greatest Discoveries” on the Science Channel; “The Eyes of Nye” on PBS; and his latest on Planet Green called “Stuff Happens.”

Video of the shuttle launch from NASA's website:


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