After 30 years of space flights, the NASA shuttle program has come to an end with the final launch of Atlantis on Friday.
NASA's space exploration has inspired many in Lubbock to educate themselves in science and engineering. Willie McCool, who graduated from Coronado High School in 1979, was one of them. McCool was in the Navy, ultimately becoming a pilot for the Space Shuttle Columbia. Unfortunately, on February 1, 2003, Columbia's entire crew perished in an explosion 16 minutes before the scheduled landing.
Another former astronaut from Lubbock is Dr. Al Sacco Jr., a former payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia years before that shuttle's tragic accident. Today he is Dean of the Whitacre College of Engineering at Texas Tech.
Sacco says when former President John F. Kennedy announced his support for men to walk on the moon, he was inspired to get with the program.
"My job was primarily to look at crystal growths of all types. We grew the first HIV protein in orbit," said Sacco.
He also learned how to get more gasoline out of a barrel of oil and how flames spread by in a free-fall environment.
Now, he says, such research is not cost effective for the government.
"The space shuttle was a great invention, but I think it turned out to be not as cheap as they thought. They thought it was going to be 7 or 8 million a flight, it turns out to be half a billion a flight," said Sacco.
The shuttle program has lasted for three decades and 135 flights. More than 9,000 people will now lose their jobs totaling up to $600 million in wages, a big hit for the economy. Despite the end of an era, Sacco says going commercial is only going to expand the program.
"I know there is a lot of ex astronauts that are consultants for space ex and a variety of different companies that are going forth with commercial launch vehicles. Of course NASA will be their primary customer, so I don't see how it can be more cost efficient than it is now," said Sacco.
Even with the high costs, Sacco says he think the brightest people and even tourists will get their chance in space.
Most importantly, he hopes the future of space travel will continue to inspire young people to educate themselves in science and engineering, as it did for him.
"I think I've done a lot of things and being in education I get I get to touch the future, which is what Christopher Mcauliffe, one of the teacher astronauts that died in the challenger once told me," said Sacco.
To keep people engaged in space travel, a lot of shuttles will retire in museums. Atlantis will dock at the Kennedy Space Station Visitor Complex.
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