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Mat KaplanNovember 2, 2010

Space Shuttle: Not Designed by Hollywood

O'Hare is a very busy place. Our connecting flight to Orlando leaves in a half-hour. I can look out the terminal window at the planes rolling by. It reminds me of an observation that frustrated me many years ago. The Space Transportation System was new. It wasn't perfect, but it was magnificent. I was as jazzed as I had been about the early, pre-landing Apollo missions. I couldn't understand why more people didn't share my excitement about this new spaceship! I eventually concluded that the design of the shuttle worked against it. Ignore the SRBs and the big tank, and it looked about as exciting as a DC9, only considerably less sleek, especially as it came in for a landing at Edwards or Kennedy. Why, oh why couldn't its designers have come up with something more like the Pan Am shuttle in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

I was clearly more of a marketer than an engineer. I still am. But much of the public has caught up with those of us who have appreciated STS from the start. Maybe it was watching it, or rather its crews, perform miracles above our planet. Maybe it was Columbia and Challenger, at least in small part. I'm still not sure John Q. fully appreciates this amazing achievement that has served our needs for three decades. At least it's now clear they will miss it when it's gone. I know it's time to say goodbye, but I can't help but feel the same way.

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Read more: history, personal stories, human spaceflight, Space Shuttle program

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Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer
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