Since itâs been plugged to death by Channel 4, they evidently believe theyâve produced something special here and to be fair, they have. A far-reaching documentary about a far-reaching subject, The Space Shuttleâs Last Flight charts the progress of NASAâs Shuttle program from concept to completion, outlining every achievement and not shying away from the program’s bleaker moments.
After the US âwonâ? the space race â yes, they landed on the moon first, but by that time the Russians had already sent men, women and dogs into space â they set their sights on an entirely different target, reusable spacecrafts. They initially intended to launch a shuttle a week, however as the documentary explains, their initial scheduling was somewhat over-optimistic; they actually averaged five a year.
The documentary is made up entirely of candid interviews and archive footage with very few flashy CGI sequences. The reason itâs so intriguing is because all the talking heads were actively involved with the Shuttle Program and are able to offer an unparalleled level of insight, as a result itâs extremely informative without ever being drab. After viewing youâll feel like a Space Shuttle expert, you wonât be, but youâll sure feel like one. Then thereâs the disasters, the first (Challenger) being particularly poignant because it was the first and only time NASA took a civilian on board. Ironically the idea behind this decision was to encourage more schoolchildren to take up science and engineering, as you may expect, this initiative didnât work out so well. Weâre shown footage of exactly what happened in the control room as the disasters unfolded while the people involved tell us what was going through their minds.
âThe shuttle was designed to exploit, rather than explore, space,â? we are repeatedly told, NASAâs mission was to create a reusable, economical ship, but we learn that in the end creating a reusable craft cost far more than NASA had anticipated, âit seemed like a no-brainer that reusing the spacecraft would make it cheaper, as it turned out the reusability factor made it more expensive.â? We learn that if the Americans now want a lift into space they have to rely on Russian rockets, something which doesnât sit well with the aging astronauts, âI think itâs criminal that we have to go to the Russians to buy our way into space… Iâm just extremely disappointed in that situation.â?
The documentary finishes somewhat ominously, stating that since America has shut down the Shuttle Program and has no plans for anything similar itâs likely to lose out when other nations begin the rush to mine resources from the moon, which leaves us wondering what consequences this will have on Americaâs position as the worldâs most influential superpower.