By Jeffrey Manber – Last night, at about 23:00 Central time, the final NanoRacks’ payload on STS-135 was deactivated by the astronauts.
Included in that payload was the Israeli’s Fisher Institute’s second series of programs with us. By our reckoning, that deactivation was probably one of the final payloads to be shut down by the Atlantis crew, and hence one of the last payloads of the Space Shuttle era.
Also onboard was NCESSE with 11 school districts doing biological payloads, and several other commercial projects. It is easy to slip too easily into symbolism. But we like the fact that one of the last payloads, if not the last, was a commercial payload, paid for by an industry group from Israel and arranged by NanoRacks. Because this sort of arrangement is without a doubt the future of low-earth orbit utilization. Commercial. International. Entrepreneurial. With NASA astronauts as enablers.
Looking forward this trend will only accelerate at NanoRacks. We are flying again on the late October Progress Mission. On Soyuz 29. Then the Japanese HTV-3. Then on the American SpaceX 1. Our customers are American and foreign, all looking to utilize the U.S. National Laboratory. Our new customer manifest will be up and running in a few days.
This is what national leadership is all about—and its something we can all be proud of. That during this difficult period of the launch ‘gap’, when NASA astronauts will rely on the commercial launch services of the Russians, scientists, researchers and students from across the world will look to NASA’s U.S. National Lab and some to NanoRacks’ commercial hardware and services, to fully utilize the unique environment of low-earth orbit. Maybe for many in the media its not as sexy as rockets, but it is about reaping at long last the rewards for spending a decade building the International Space Station.
My first shuttle launch was STS-3; I don’t know the year right now, but I was young enough or foolish enough to arrive far too early and went to sleep in the late night on the grass by the countdown clock. I remember the excitement for the future; an excitement I haven’t really felt again until now. This time, when it comes to low-earth orbit, I think we finally have it right.