The Space Shuttle’s Last Flight Review: Out Of Space

THE SPACE SHUTTLE’S LAST FLIGHT: Saturday 23rd July, C4, 7.30pm

Since it’s been plugged to death by Channel 4, they evidently believe they’ve produced something special here and to be fair, they have. A far-reaching documentary about a far-reaching subject, The Space Shuttle’s Last Flight charts the progress of NASA’s Shuttle program from concept to completion, outlining every achievement and not shying away from the program’s bleaker moments.

After the US “wonâ€? the space race – yes, they landed on the moon first, but by that time the Russians had already sent men, women and dogs into space – 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 it’s 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 it’s extremely informative without ever being drab. After viewing you’ll feel like a Space Shuttle expert, you won’t be, but you’ll sure feel like one. Then there’s 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 didn’t work out so well. We’re 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.

“The shuttle was designed to exploit, rather than explore, space,â€? we are repeatedly told, NASA’s 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, “it 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 doesn’t sit well with the aging astronauts, “I think it’s criminal that we have to go to the Russians to buy our way into space… I’m 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 it’s 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 America’s position as the world’s most influential superpower.