The space shuttle Endeavour and International Space Station shine front and center in this amazing (and historic) photo of the two vehicles docked together as seen from a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Astronaut Paolo Nespoli snapped this view and others during the first-ever photo session of a shuttle docked at the space station.
Shuttle really isn't a great name and doesn't inspire the same way that the word 'rocket' does.
But perched here on the final hours of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, one can't dismiss the historic role this decades-long program has played, both of triumph and tragedy.
First pondered as a 'Space Plane' back in the mid-1950s, it was President Nixon who gave the final okay for deployment, and for over 30 years this first-of-its-kind ship (a re-usable spacecraft) put space travel (even though it aimed only for low-orbit work) into a nearly dismissible routine event. But two tragic accidents, one on launch and one on re-entry, highlighted that this immensely complex scientific process could never be considered mundane work.
Some major achievements the Shuttle made possible - the creation of orbiting space stations and experimental orbiting platforms, and setting up and repairing the Hubble telescope, which has given our world a stunning new perspective on our universe and all that it contains.
As one NASA space operations chief said in late June of this year - "We've gone from where we went to space, and we touched space and we came back. We now are really in the posture where we're learning to live in space and operate in space."
The aurora australis, or southern lights, shimmer beyond Endeavour's vertical fin in a 1994 long-exposure picture. Endeavour was named after the ship commanded by James Cook, the 18th-century British explorer, navigator, and astronomer. The name was chosen through a national competition involving students in U.S. elementary and secondary schools.
The Shuttle fleet has flown 134 times, as much as nine times a year, though it has been used, far, far longer than first envisioned, and a lack of direction and financing now means that for the near future, our space program will depend on other nations to carry astronauts and cargo into orbit. Where we go from here is still mostly unknown.
I'm a total space nerd (one of my earliest posts showed my geekery). And this last Shuttle flight marks the end of an era, as millions if not billions of folks in our world have lived when this program was a constant event. NASA offers a constant online update of this final flight.
Many consider the money and materials and lives it takes for space exploration a waste, but the reality is that our very nature is to explore our world and all the mysteries of our universe. The waste would be if we simply stop and believe we can't reach for the stars.