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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Explore the flight deck of a Space Shuttle [360 degrees interactive]

When Space Shuttle Atlantis returned back to Earth & touched ground on 20th July 2011, it drew the curtains on U.S.A.'s Space Shuttle program, amongst the most ambitious Scientific & Engineering endeavors ever undertaken. While watching any Space launch mission, conduced by any country, is just as exciting, something about the launch of the Space Shuttle had just that much more profound & dramatic effect.
With the Shuttles now taken out of action, Russia's Soviet-era Soyuz Rocket, which incidentally is the direct derivate of an ICBM, is the only proven, operational system for conducting manned Space mission for now. The Chinese Shenzhou is experimental in nature.
The U.S has proposed the Space Launch System program, following the cancelled Constellation program, as replacement for the Space Shuttle program to undertake heavy-lift missions to far off reaches of space*. The first manned mission is projected to be performed in around 2029.
These retired Space Shuttles are now expected to be placed in museums around USA, where visitors can view these Engineering beauties in all its glory. For those who can not make the trip just yet, a bit of the shuttle environment can be experienced right on the Internet itself.
A beautiful, 360o panoramic visual of the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery can be explored below via this interactive flash interface. Zooming into the visual allows you to view that portion of the flight deck in greater details. A better option, IMO, would be to enable auto-rotate & just sit back and soak in the awesomeness of human enterprise & ingenuity, that the shuttle was.
If you are unable to watch the embedded page, then you may try viewing it here.
There some more such interactive panoramas involving Shuttle launch
While the visual above was created by 360VR, a commercial entity specializing in creating such interactive panoramas, using Microsoft's Photosynth, one can attempt something similar, for free.
A program to develop a reusable Space launch vehicle, similar to the Space Shuttle, is currently underway in India too, although, the initial thrust is towards developing this system for launching & placing into orbit satellites. Human-rating the system is likely to come later.
* Private Space launch enterprises are expected to be contracted for manned space missions to near space destinations.
image courtesy NASA