Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Bids Farewell to the Space Shuttle Program, Encourages Plan for Future Human Spaceflight
Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at NASA Kennedy Space Center, officially bringing an end to the nation's space shuttle program and a 30-year legacy of boosting astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Three Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) powered the final flight of Atlantis on Mission STS-135 to the station on July 8. The SSME is the only fully reusable high-performance rocket engine rated for human spaceflight, having delivered the majority of U.S. astronauts into space since its maiden Mission STS-1 on April 12, 1981. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is the SSME prime integrator since program inception and is a United Technologies Corp. (NYSE:UTX) company.
"We all have mixed emotions right now," said Jim Maser, president, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. "Clearly, we are extremely proud to have provided our astronauts with 30 years of reliable and safe performance, and we're honored to have been part of such a great national team in accomplishing so much for science and exploration. But with the program officially over, we are looking to an uncertain legacy and future. It's critical – now more than ever – for NASA to define its plan for returning humans to space. The nation cannot afford to lose its industrial base, leadership in space, and the knowledge it's built over the last 50 years. Once that knowledge is gone, it's gone forever."
Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center on July 8 with a crew of four on Mission STS-135, which carried the Raffaello multipurpose logistics module packed with supplies and spare parts for the station. The orbiter also delivered a system that will be used to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft, and returned a failed ammonia pump module to help NASA better understand the failed mechanism and improve pump designs for future systems.
The SSMEs have boosted every shuttle launch since the flight program began in 1981, allowing more than 800 astronauts from 14 different countries to travel to low-Earth orbit, deploy and retrieve commercial, civil and defense satellites, deliver modules for the ISS, and conduct scientific experiments that forever changed life on earth. Scientific experiments conducted in space now commonplace include everything from smoke detectors and firefighter gear, to cardiac pacemakers and breast-cancer screening technology, to de-icing systems for airplanes. The shuttle program further expanded mankind's knowledge of the solar system by deploying scientific spacecrafts to study the sun, Earth and adjoining planets, as well as understand the formation of the universe with platforms such as the Hubble Space Telescope, Compton and Chandra observatories, and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. The space shuttle missions helped astronauts learn to live and routinely operate in low-Earth orbit to benefit the future of human exploration.
The SSME is the world's most reliable and highly tested large rocket engine ever built, and operates under extreme temperatures ranging from -423 degrees Fahrenheit to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit – half the surface temperature of the sun. Even though the SSME weighs one-seventh as much as a locomotive, its high-pressure fuel pump alone delivers as much horsepower for 11 more. If water instead of fuel were pumped by the three SSMEs, an average swimming pool could be drained in 25 seconds. The SSMEs have powered all 135 launches over the course of the shuttle program, totaling 57.6 hours of flight time and another 246.7 hours of accumulated ground testing.
For more information about the future of human spaceflight, visit: www.futurespaceusa.com.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a part of Pratt & Whitney, is a preferred provider of high-value propulsion, power, energy and innovative system solutions used in a wide variety of government and commercial applications, including the main engines for the space shuttle, Atlas and Delta launch vehicles, missile defense systems and advanced hypersonic engines. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is headquartered in Canoga Park, Calif., and has facilities in Huntsville, Ala.; Kennedy Space Center, Fla.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Stennis Space Center, Miss; and Carlstadt, N.J. For more information about Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, go to www.prattwhitneyrocketdyne.com.
Pratt & Whitney is a world leader in the design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines, space propulsion systems and industrial gas turbines. United Technologies, based in Hartford, Conn., is a diversified company providing high technology products and services to the global aerospace and commercial building industries.