Five years ago, on July 21, 2011, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) announced it would be ending its space shuttle program, following the landing of the Atlantis space shuttle (STS-135) – marking the last of the 135 space shuttle missions.
Leonid Kadenyuk, a payload specialist with the National Space Agency of Ukraine, who was the only Ukrainian citizen to fly into space on a U.S. space shuttle, expressed regret at the end of the 30-year-old program.
“I am sorry that this period is ending. These shuttles could have done a lot more interesting and valuable work in exploring space,” he told RFE/RL from his home in Kyiv.
Mr. Kadenyuk made his space flight on NASA’s Columbia space shuttle in 1997, and said the preparation for that flight itself was “the most interesting period of my life.” During the mission, Mr. Kadenyuk conducted experiments designed to study how a weightless environment affects plant growth and biomass. While on Columbia, Mr. Kadenyuk orbited the earth 252 times, logging a total of 15 days, 16 hours and 34 minutes in space.
Mr. Kadenyuk was a former pilot who was selected for the Soviet cosmonaut team in 1976. However, he made his first and only flight into space only after Ukraine became independent and the U.S. government decided to support a joint space mission. He noted that no Ukrainian citizen would be able to follow him into space, and blamed the Ukrainian government, which, in his view, was using “4 to 5 percent” of Ukraine’s space industry potential.
Since the beginning of the first space shuttle launch on April 12, 1981, 355 individuals from 16 countries have flown 852 times aboard the U.S. shuttles. Five of the shuttles have traveled more than 542 million miles and hosted more than 2,000 experiments. Other NASA shuttles included Endeavor, Discovery and Challenger, which exploded during its maiden launch in 1986.
NASA was established 68 years ago, on July 29, 1958, after the U.S. Congress passed legislation and President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally inaugurated the space organization. Many observers suggested that the establishment of NASA was a sign that the U.S. was committed to winning the “space race” against the Soviets. This was also in response to early U.S. failed attempt at the Vanguard satellite program. By the time Neil Armstrong landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, NASA declared that the space race was over.
Sources: “Astronaut from Ukraine sad to see end of U.S. space shuttle program,” (RFE/RL), The Ukrainian Weekly, August 5, 2011. (www.nasa.gov)