In the Age of Spaceplanes
Stories from the shuttle astronauts, in their own words.
- By The Editors
- AirSpaceMag.com, November 18, 2010
Ask space shuttle astronauts to call up memories of their time in orbit and they’re not likely to focus on the data they gathered or the payloads they launched. They might talk instead about a meal shared with crewmates in weightlessness, or the beauty of auroras viewed from above, or the sense of community they felt with everyone looking down at Earth from space. That’s a uniquely human perspective. Satellites have no such feelings.
We tend to focus on the machine when we think of the space shuttle—the raw power and the intricate engineering. But the people inside were always the point. The shuttle carried human society into orbit, a few individuals at a time, for 30 years. The astronauts lived and worked in a most unusual environment for short periods, seeing things the rest of us will never see. Until orbital tourism companies start launching people in greater numbers, the shuttle program will remain the high-water mark of human space exploration.
And as this sampler of stories (most of which appeared in our 2002 book, Space Shuttle: The First 20 Years) shows, the astronauts who’ve been to orbit have tales to tell. Click on the gallery above to read some of them.
Pictured: Dave Williams and Jay Buckey, both first-time space fliers, look out Columbia’s aft flight deck window during the STS-90 mission in 1998.