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The space shuttle programme has been a multi-billion-dollar failure

Atlantis and the other space shuttles have been a colossal waste of American resources, time and creative energy. The real science done by NASA has not involved humans

A shuttle spacewalk. 'What we learn from sending people into space is not much more than how people can survive in space,' says Krauss. Photograph: AFP/Getty

With Atlantis's touchdown on Thursday bringing down the final curtain on the space shuttle programme, there is much hand-wringing over the end of an era. For the first time in 30 years Nasa has no immediate programme for human space travel in place. While many are mourning this loss, the last flight of the space shuttle instead provides an opportunity to rethink space

exploration and a time to cut our losses from a failed programme that has been a colossal waste of resources, time and creative energy.

The space shuttle failed to live up to its primary goal of providing relatively cheap and efficient human space travel. There is a good reason for this. As the engineers made it clear to the physicist Richard Feynman when he was investigating the cause of the Challenger explosion, human space travel is risky. While Nasa managers had estimated the odds of a shuttle disaster to be microscopic, engineers estimated the loss rate at about 1 in 100 flights, which is close to the actual disaster rate.

Not only has the shuttle programme been costly, it has been boring. A generation that grew up with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

had hoped that by the dawn of the new millennium we would be regularly vacationing in space, and routinely sending astronauts to boldly go where no man or woman had gone before.

Instead we were treated to regular images of the shuttle visiting a $100bn boondoggle orbiting in space closer to Earth than Washington DC is to New York. No one except a billionaire or two has ever vacationed in space, and their "hotel" was a cramped, stuffy and at times smelly white elephant.

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Lawrence M Krauss is foundation professor and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and the author of books including The Physics of Star Trek. His most recent book, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science, was published in March.
Lawrence M. Krauss at

Lawrence Krauss at



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