Why is there so little coverage of the last flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

That's what this article on SpaceRef asks, comparing the coverage given to Atlantis with other news stories of the day.

My suspicion is that it's a combination of a few simple factors: 1) It's not the last Shuttle flight yet, and the Space Shuttles all look pretty much the same to the untrained eye, and 2) the story is a bit sad and complex at the same time. Sad because the Shuttle program is soon to come to an end, and complex because it takes a while to explain what the new plan for NASA is. That requires bringing up SpaceX, the entire space industry, cost to launch a kg or lb of payload to LEO, etc.

More news coverage requires a simpler narrative. If we're lucky SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 successfully (scheduled for today, actually) and then the narrative during the next two Shuttle flights will become simpler: the Shuttles are almost done, but SpaceX and other companies are probably going to be able to fill the gap. If the Falcon 9 fails, then...expect a lot of consternation and hand wringing.

That might not be a bad thing in the long term, actually - the space race with the Soviet Union was pretty much all consternation and hand wringing too, and NASA's budget compared to the entire federal budget was about five times what it is now.

Chance of success for the Falcon 9 launch: no idea of course, but I would guess high as the Falcon 1 failures had a bit to do with so-called "go fever", the urge to get a successful launch off as quickly as possible. With the two successes under their belt they've probably been able to get rid of that and are proceeding in a more professional and orderly fashion.

By the way, Daily Kos has a good science writeup today including most of the stories worth mentioning from this week.

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