3:34 PM

Great Way to
Eat Crow.

Nobody is ever HAPPY to eat crow, but in this case, I'll be glad to chomp down some of the ugly black creature.

After looking at closeup shots of the injured underbelly of NASA's Endeavor, I did not feel good about the chances of that shuttle making it through re-entry. The chunk just looked too big and too deep. But it must have been in an area that could withstand the heat, because this morning, all went well with the shuttle landing, as space.com reports here:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's shuttle Endeavour and its seven-astronaut crew returned to Earth Tuesday, landing one day early due to earlier concerns that Hurricane Dean could disrupt Mission Control operations in Texas. Endeavour swooped down out of the Florida sky to loose two sonorous sonic booms before making a 12:32 p.m. EDT (1632 GMT) touchdown at NASA's Shuttle Landing Facility here at the Kennedy Space Center.
Now that this bullet has been dodged, we move on and move forward:
NASA plans at least 11 more shuttle flights to complete construction of the ISS by September 2010, when the space agency plans to retire its three-orbiter fleet. Two flights are slated to fly later this year: The shuttle Discovery is scheduled to launch the new Harmony connecting node on Oct. 23, and Atlantis is set to haul the European Columbus laboratory to the ISS on Dec. 6.
Now I follow space flights about as much as most aviators...fascinated by space since childhood. But had you pinned me down and asked me the amount of shuttle flights there have been over the years, I would have never guessed this:
Tuesday's landing completed NASA's 119th shuttle flight -- the 22nd bound for the ISS -- and the 20th spaceflight for Endeavour.
Whoa. I must have missed a few memos along the way, because I would have swore under oath there was in the neighborhood of 40-50 launches. But this link shows the launches and the cargo.

There will come a day fairly soon when the only Shuttles you can find will be on display at the Steven Udvar-Hazy Center in WDC. NASA will be flying something else in a few years, and for many critics of the shuttle's design, it won't be a moment too soon. When your belly tiles can get dinged by disintegrating foam or dislodged rocks of ice, and when your glide characteristics so closely relate a brick tied to a boxcar, maybe it IS time to retire that flying machine.

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