With the shuttle Discovery and its crew safely home, the born-again space agency turned Tuesday to the future, its recovery from the shock of the Challenger disaster finally over.
A quick inspection shows the rebuilt shuttle sailed through its ground-shaking blastoff last Thursday and landing Monday in good shape, and if all goes well, the orbiter will be bolted to the back of a 747 jet transport for the trip back to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Saturday."They're feeling real good about it," said a NASA spokeswoman. "They're very happy with the way the orbiter looks."
Discovery's 1.7 million-mile, four-day flight cleared the way for preparations for the launch of Atlantis in late November on a secret military mission. Seven shuttle flights are scheduled for next year and 10 in 1990.
At a welcome-home ceremony after Discovery's landing Monday, astronaut David Hilmers said, "I want you to remember that no matter how hard a setback we have we can bounce back from adversity. I want you to remember that we should continue to dream for the future and space should be a part of those dreams."
Shuttle chief Richard Truly, a former shuttle astronaut, told a post-flight news conference that the shuttle program is booked with cargo for years ahead. A replacement for Challenger is scheduled to fly in 1991.
"I believe that this nation is going to have the shuttle as its backbone of space transportation until well into the next century, 2005 or maybe a few years even beyond that," Truly said.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has 50 shuttle flights on the books, 10 of them classified military missions and several to carry out long-awaited scientific projects.
On April 18, 1989, the Magellan probe is scheduled for launch to map the hidden surface of cloudy Venus with high-resolution radar.
On Oct. 12, 1989, the Galileo spacecraft is to be launched to study Jupiter and its moons. And on Feb. 1, 1990, the $1.4 billion Hubble Space Telescope, the most powerful optical telescope ever put in orbit, will be launched.
If Atlantis is launched on schedule next month, thethird post-Challenger flight will lift off around Feb. 18 to carry another NASA communications satellite into orbit identical to the one deployed by Discovery last week and one already operating in orbit.
The rebirth of American manned spaceflight hingedon the success of Discovery's mission - essentially a test flight of more than 200 modifications made to theshuttle and its solid-fuel rocket boosters after the Challenger accident.
Discovery's flight was almost trouble free, and the landing Monday was picture-perfect.
Heralded by twin sonic booms, the Discovery landed at 10:37 a.m. MDT on hard clay lakebed runway No. 17. The spacecraft stopped in front of an estimated 425,000 cheering spectators, many waving the Stars and Stripes.
"Welcome back! A great ending to the new beginning," said astronaut Blaine Hammond in Houston control as Discovery rolled to a stop. At Edwards, the national anthem played in the background.
It was a fitting close to the first shuttle flight since the Challenger explosion 32 months ago.