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Keeping the Final Space Shuttle Mission in Perspective

Written By: James Heiser  |  Posted: Monday, July 25th, 2011

            As the last flight of NASA's space shuttle began with a photogenic launch this morning, the future of manned space flight is far from certain. From the first shuttle mission - designated STS-1 - in April 1981, when astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen flew the Columbia, through today's launch of Atlantis for STS-135, the shuttle program has been the focus of much of the praise and criticism in public analysis of America's space program. Now, as Atlantis begins its twelve-day mission, the debate about the future of human space flight centers on the role of public and private involvement in such endeavors.

            Since the beginning of "space race" between the Soviet Union and the United States, outer space has primarily been the domain of governmental space programs. National security concerns led to the development of spy and weather satellites, global satellite communications, and the global positioning satellite (GPS) system. Other programs - such as the Apollo - mixed science and "national prestige" interests.

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