Atlantis and the final landing of the Space Shuttle program. (credit: NASA / Wikimedia Commons)
No humans have launched into space from US soil for more than five years, when space shuttle Atlantis made its final voyage.
Since that spacecraft landed on July 21, 2011, a total of 2,098 days have passed.
Former Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale noted on Twitter Tuesday that this gap has now surpassed the previous longest US spaceflight gap—2,089 days—which occurred between the end of the Apollo program and the first space shuttle mission.
The final Apollo mission, which launched in 1975 and featured an in-space rendezvous with a Russian spacecraft, presaged the end of the “space race” and future cooperation between the United States and Russia in space.
And since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA has relied exclusively on Russia to get its astronauts to the International Space Station.
It will do so again on Thursday, with the launch of Jack Fischer from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
It would be easy to pillory NASA for this gap, but the space agency largely doesn’t deserve the blame. The failure belongs to the American government, which knew literally for more than a decade that the shuttle’s end was coming, but it failed to prepare for its inevitable retirement or articulate a plan for what was to come next.
This failure belongs to the presidencies of George W.
Bush and Barack Obama and especially to Congress, which underfunded the program both Bush and Obama settled on to replace the space shuttle—a commercial crew plan to leverage development of private spacecraft.
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