A few days after the Atlantis's Friday, July 8th launch--the final launch of an American space shuttle--Tuesday, July 12th marked on another "last" for the space shuttle program: the last space walk.
The two astronauts who conducted the walk, Michael Fossum and Ronald Garan Jr., were not of the Atlantis's 4-person crew, but rather residents of the International Space Station. Nevertheless, the shuttle played an important role in the mission. Part of the objective of the space walk was to remove a broken ammonia coolant pump from the station. The Atlantis will carry the pump back to earth, so NASA scientists can study what caused the pump to malfunction in the first place.
The second objective of the mission was to install a prototype robot called Dextre to the Space Station. Next January, long after the completion of Atlantis's final mission, scientists will begin experimenting with the robot's various arms, knobs, and fuel tank, testing its abilities to fuel future space craft that could travel farther out into space.
Today's space walk exemplifies the transition the American space program is currently undergoing. It is not only a finale for the space shuttle, but also, with the installation of a new experimental fueling system, the space walk also foreshadows space travels to come. Back here on earth, where debates on debt ceilings and deficit spending rage, it also asks us to consider the US government's own priorities. Will we miss the space shuttle and perhaps look forward to new forms of space travel? Or, with the culmination of the shuttle program, should we shelve our space dreams altogether? Answer this poll and leave us a comment to let us know what you think.