A quiet anniversary passed April 11, just after the space shuttle Atlantis returned to earth. Ten years ago, amid fanfare and exaggerated hopes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched what it fully expected to be a new era in manned exploration. But it never happened. The old saw about the best-laid plans going awry was proved many times over during the decade, as an expected 700 flights shrank to just 39, curtailed in part by the unforeseen technical glitches that can hang up any space launch and in major part by the heart-rending Challenger tragedy.
With the shuttle Discovery on the pad for yet another partially secret military mission and the entire fleet due upgrading for longer missions, it must be acknowledged that many successes came as well. More than 100 space shuttle astronauts, women as well as men, have traveled more than 100 million miles in space. Astronauts have spacewalked, sent into orbit 34 satellites, launched the Hubble Space Telescope and kicked off deep space probes to Jupiter and Venus. They have repaired disabled vehicles, retrieved the Long Duration Exposure satellite for materials researchers and helped recycle some satellites. On Atlantis' last mission, they shook loose a stuck antenna boom, saving a $617-million gamma ray observatory.