Friday, July 2, 2010

The last launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis?

April 20, 2010   
My cousin Jean grew up on the "Space Coast" of Florida. Her mother worked in the Office of Downrange Affairs at nearby Patrick Air Force Base from the time manned space flight was only a dream until long after that dream was realized. I grew up in Orlando wishing I lived on the Space Coast.  We both moved around the country as adults, but ended up here in recent years, she a snow-bird with her main home and family still in Wisconsin, and I a full-time resident with all my family nearby.
She and her husband were still in their winter abode in April when the last launch of space shuttle Atlantis blasted off magnificently to visit the International Space Station one last time.  We talked about watching the launch from their dock on the Indian River then decided at the last moment to get on the highway and drive as close to ground zero as we could get to watch this thrilling event. Both of us have been shaken from our beds by the noise of a Space Shuttle breaking the sound barrier overhead upon approach to the landing strip. Neither of us has ever been close enough to feel the ground shake and see the plume of smoke on the ground at a launch. This might be our last chance.
We drove like fury as far north as we could, listening intently to the radio announcer reporting the count-down. When he announced T minus 3 minutes, we began to look for a gathering of cars and people with binoculars along side the river. Someplace, anyplace where we could witness this historic moment. After parking we waited only a minute before scrambling to the best vantage point we could find and watching the horizon to the east-northeast. We heard the low rumble before the announcer told us the candle had been lit but then we saw it, beginning to rise steadily into the sky. 

A close-up look through the camera lens showed it flying straight and true. As someone who eye-witnessed shuttle Challenger's heartbreaking explosion on lift-off April 4, 1983 from Orlando, my heart is always in my mouth until the last of the vapor trail is gone. I had also watched Columbia's terrible loss on re-entry Feb. 1, 2003 on TV. The world grieved the terrible losses in these tragedies but the grieving was palpable here on the Space Coast.  Seeing Atlantis soar as she did this day brought tears of joy to my eyes.

All around us people stood, eyes sheltered as they looked skyward, in absolute awe of the sight they had witnessed. We watched until the last of the vapor trail had become vague wisps in the cloudless blue sky.

Slowly they began to move, to look at each other, then applause broke out across the crowd followed by cheers and whistles. My skin prickled with goose-bumps.
This was a moment of triumph nothing can take from us. The space program as we know it may be at an end soon, but I am still hopeful the long career of Atlantis is not at an end. There are still 2 more launches between now and the end of February 2011 and even the possibility of another Atlantis launch.

If not, I hope she will be displayed and studied by those of us who love her, our children and grand-children.
 If you would like to buy a patch for this mission STS-132 go HERE
(this is not a paid endorsement and I have no connection whatsoever with this site)
This is a quote from that site:
The STS-132 mission will be the 32nd flight of the space shuttle Atlantis. The primary STS-132 mission objective is to deliver the Russian-made MRM-1 (Mini Research Module) to the International Space Station (ISS). Atlantis will also deliver a new communications antenna and a new set of batteries for one of the ISS solar arrays.
The STS-132 mission patch features Atlantis flying off into the sunset as the end of the Space Shuttle Program approaches. However the sun is also heralding the promise of a new day as it rises for the first time on a new ISS module, the MRM-1, which is also named 'Rassvet,' the Russian word for dawn.

1 comment:

Susan Adcox said...

Several of my family members have been wanting to see a space shot for years. But every time we've been in the area when one was scheduled, it had to be postponed. I enjoyed reading about your experience.