"The space shuttle is a highly visible national symbol and a large commitment by the American taxpayers," Wayne Hale, the space agency’s former shuttle chief and STS-108 lead flight director, said at the time. "So we would be remiss if we didn't take steps to protect that asset."
Leading up to Endeavour's liftoff, extra security precautions included withholding the announcement of the mission's scheduled launch time.
"There was a concern that the space shuttle launch would be a potential target, especially so close after the attacks," Beutel explained. So NASA declined to release the target launch time.
"A block of time – something like a four-hour window – was given instead. It was only much closer to the actual launch that we got more specific," he said.
This practice was continued for more than a year, through the ill-fated STS-107 flight of the space shuttle Columbia , which broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. When NASA’s shuttle fleet returned to flight in 2005, the agency was confident that broader security measures would make announcing launch times less of a risk, Beutel said.
NASA in the post-9/11 world
Other changes restricted the public's access to the grounds at Kennedy Space Center.
"For two decades, the general public was able to obtain car passes that let them come to KSC and watch a shuttle launch," Beutel said. "People loved it – tens of thousands of people were able to see launches close up. But we never resumed this in the post-9/11 world. It was just the way things had to be. It was a potential threat to have the general public come into a secure federal facility attached to a military institution."
Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex closed for a few days, "to review and update safety and security measures," said Andrea Farmer, public relations manager at the visitor complex.
"We worked closely with NASA," Farmer added.
One aftereffect of 9/11 continues to shape the future of NASA and human spaceflight, Johnson-Freese said. The end of the space shuttle program and the transition toward relying on commercial firms for access to low-Earth orbit are reflections of a decade-old change in political priorities.
"The political will for space exploration, especially manned space, has suffered since 9/11, paying for the subsequent wars, and most recently the economic downturn," said Johnson-Freese. "There is significant rhetorical support – but not when prioritized against other areas of government spending. Americans are proud of the space program, but when jobs, 401(k)s and the debt are considered, there simply isn’t the political will to fund NASA to the level necessary for it to actually carry out a visionary – return to the moon, go to Mars, etc. – type program.
"We are in a very difficult transition period between having a government-funded program and a largely private one. I don't think people realize how difficult it could be."
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