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Somebody parked the space shuttle, Endeavour, outside Randy’s Donut Shop. It could only have happened in California. Trees had to be cut down, power lines raised and the donuts paid for before it could move on.

Space Shuttle Endeavour

All the space shuttles have now been retired and given sheltered accommodation in museums round the country: Intrepid in New York; Discovery in Washington DC; Atlantis in Florida; and now Endeavour in Los Angeles.

As they receive respectful visitors, their stories will be told. Endeavour’s is particularly poignant since it is the youngest of the family and was only commissioned because of the demise of its older sibling, Challenger, which blew up 73 seconds after take-off one summer’s day in 1986. The tragedy stunned America because of the presence of Christa McAuliffe amongst the seven member crew. She was a school teacher who was going to conduct experiments in the orbiter while in media contact with school children round the country, many of whom were watching the fateful launch.

The story is a reminder to us all of the emotions attending technological development: the awe, excitement, risk, pride in success and grief in failure.

And, as one story comes to an end, another starts. In 2010, President Obama made a speech to NASA in which he terminated the Bush project to land a man on the moon again, commenting, “We have already been there”, and directed all government sponsored research to landing a man on Mars in the 2030’s. NASA will therefore continue its mission to operate at the cutting edge of space technology, while the relatively simple job of flying loads to the International Space Station will be contracted out to private companies. On the 7th October, this year, the first commercial flight was launched by SpaceX to ferry a 1000 pounds of key science experiments and equipment to the Space Station.

The days of the Space Shuttle are over, but just maybe, one of the children who watched the fatal launch of Challenger in awe and shock has been moved to engage with the drama of science and will one day take a risk and walk on Mars.