United States space shuttle Atlantis blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Friday, the 7th of July 2011 at 1129 local time (1529 GMT; 1629 BST) for the final flight of the shuttle program. This ends another chapter in an era that began in 1961 for the US when the first American, Alan Shepard Jr, rocketed to space from the same launch facility. The previous great chapter in manned flight, the Apollo moon missions ended in 1975 and it was not until 1981 that the first space shuttle Columbia flew with a human crew.
Atlantis will be delivering more than three tonnes of supplies to the International Space Station. The mission will last 12 days.
The administration of President Barack Obama had secured approval from Congress for NASA to develop new rockets designed for flights deeper into space. NASA’s space shuttle program has been estimated to have cost US taxpayers anywhere from USD115 billion to twice that amount. Any new manned program that may be mounted by NASA will have to face more scrutiny as the questionable cost-benefit profile of the previous programs have been put to question in recent years.
For now the US will rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to take Americans to space. The private sector is now being relied upon to develop spacecraft to provide an alternative to the Russians for this job in the future.
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