Shuttle Sustains Liftoff Damage

The shuttle's heat shields get nicked as the new mission signals the end of an era

The Space Shuttle Atlantis

En route to the final Hubble service missioncourtesy of NASA

When NASA unveiled the first space shuttle in 1977, they named it Enterprise to evoke advanced technology and the promise of space flight. Now, over 30 years later, the shuttle has become the interplanetary version of the family wagon: old, but still getting the job done.

Underscoring the age and delicacy of the shuttle is news that four of the tiles that protect the shuttle during reentry were damaged during takeoff. According to NASA, 103 seconds into launch, debris hit four of the tiles, but the space agency has called the damage "minor" and may not even repair the tiles until the shuttle gets back to Earth.

This servicing mission is the tenth to last mission for the entire shuttle fleet, and the Washington Post used this opportunity to look back at the age of the shuttle, explore its legacy and examine its replacement, the Ares. Sure, the article calls the shuttle "aged, flawed", but it also notes that it does have its admirers amongst NASA engineers.