One of the things that define humanity as species is our fascination with the heavens. As children, how many of us gazed up at the stars and longed to travel among them? For a few lucky individuals, this dream has become a reality, and this July four more astronauts will be added to the elite list of people who have travelled into outer space.
Unfortunately for fans of the American’s space program, this mission will also mark the last for the venerable space shuttle.
The shuttle, which first flew on October 3, 1985, will be flying one final mission slated to take place on July 8, according to NASA. Some of the shuttle’s previous missions included “docking to the Russian MIR space station [ . . . ], delivery of the Destiny Laboratory to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001” as well as the “final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope” in May 2009.
The final mission’s goals are to deliver the Rafaello multi-purpose logistics module to the ISS, retrieving and replacing a failed ammonia pump and testing the RRM, or Robotic Refuelling Mission, an experiment designed to test the feasibility of robotically refuelling satellites in space. The mission will also attempt to ensure that the ISS can continue to operate after the shuttle program is shut down.
The space shuttle program’s 30-year history has been incredibly successful, sending 362 individuals into space over the course of 135 missions and travelling 864 million kilometres — nearly the distance of three round trip journeys to the sun. Naturally, with any endeavour of this magnitude and scope, tragedy goes hand-in-hand with triumph: the program has suffered two major accidents resulting in 14 deaths.
The end of the shuttle program alone would be enough to make this summer an important one for space travel, but adding to the excitement credibility is a group of Danish engineers who are picking up the slack and proving that amateur space travel is a feasible idea.
It sounds a little crazy, but a private group of Danish engineers, known as Copenhagen Suborbitals, successfully designed, tested and launched a rocket and motor. The launch took place on June 3 from a floating launch platform in the Baltic Sea — and yes, they designed and built the platform too. If the project achieves its goals of sending a passenger 19 miles into the atmosphere, it will put Denmark on the list of countries that have sent people into space, which so far include Russia, the U.S. and China. The effort is entirely privately funded, and the project has been completed on a shoestring budget, writes Space.com.
The Danish endeavour could not come at a better time. The contrast between one government funded, high-budget program coming to a close and the beginning of a new, private and relatively inexpensive program forces us to rethink the way we see space travel. The ingenuity, creativity and determination of a handful of experts has led to the accomplishment of a seemingly impossible feat: non-government funded space programs. With breakthroughs in private space flight such as this, it seems likely the non-astronaut members our generation will finally get the chance to explore the final frontier.