Sun setting for the Shuttle

The space shuttle is reaching the end of its life with only a couple of missions left. One of those will be to deliver and attach a new cosmic ray experiment to the space station. AMS has been developed at CERN and was recently modified to replace its superconducting magnet with a longer life permanent magnet so that it can continue for the extended life of the ISS.


This picture was taken in May as the space station passed in front of the Sun as Atlantis approached. It was captured by astrophotographer Thierry Legault.

4 Responses to Sun setting for the Shuttle

  1. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    We might ponder whether there is any future for manned spaceflight. In a general sense we might ask whether there is any prospect for any long term human presence off of Earth.

  2. Philip Gibbs says:

    The prospects don’t look good do they? I always thought the ISS was meant to be a permanent platform from which manned missions to Mars would be launched. Now it will probably be decommissioned after another 15 more years. maintaining a space station is expensive.

    The best prospects seem to be for a moonbase, but will people be willing to pay for it and is it justified? Personally I think if resources are limited I’d rather see unmanned probes and space telescopes. They have done much more science for much less cost. They just don’t capture the public’s imagination the way a manned mission does.

  3. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    After my doctoral work I worked primarily on problems with orbital dynamics. I have worked until the last decade as one of those spacecraft “jockeys” doing Newton laws on a computer to compute orbital windows to get a craft from Earth to somewhere in the solar system. The one thing which happens in doing this work is you read between the lines of the equations. The difficulties in getting space systems to function properly is enormous, and the problem of getting a spacecraft to a destination is a bit like playing a hole of golf, you tee off (launch), use a 7 or 3 iron for the next stokes and put the ball in — but the course may be 100s of millions of kilometers, and you have to reach par. Certainly one limitation in this is the rocket equation, which is why you need a 3000 ton rocket to get a 40 ton craft to the moon, and where only a few tons of that return. Putting astronauts on spacecraft also increases the costs and complexity of things by 10-100 fold.

    The future of manned space flight may not be foreclosed yet, but it is clear that some serious study needs to be undertaken to ascertain whether there is any prospect for this. It is possible to return astronauts to the moon, but at best only to facilitate robotic systems which deploy and run instrumentation we might put there. Placing a lunar base might just be a larger example of the ISS, where in effect it is a way of putting Americans on the moon under the flag. The ISS has been similar to this, and has served also as a sort of diplomatic system for cooperation with various countries. Now the Russians are the servicers of that, and in effect might be the dominant actors there from now on. Yet outside of the AMS and a few other minor experiments the scientific role of the ISS has been almost nil.

  4. Bill K says:

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed that everything goes okay with AMS. This is a very important experiment, to intercept primary cosmic rays looking for anitmatter and anything else exotic. AMS has had a checkered past, with long delays and large cost overruns. At last it took an act of Congress to extend the shuttle program by one flight to carry AMS into orbit. The change from superconducting to permanent magnet was made necessary by the discovery of unexpected heat sources that would have shortened the lifetime. Refitting AMS with a permanent magnet extends the lifetime but reduces the sensitivity.

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