Six weeks ago, I told my boss that come hell or high water, I was going to be present for the final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis. I live a mere 166 miles north of the launch pad and could think of no better way to spend a day off than to hang out on the beach in Daytona and stare up at the sky to see the last shuttle in NASA’s 30-year history soar toward space.
It didn’t happen. I mean, the launch happened, but my day on the beach staring up at the sky didn’t happen. It was pouring rain and the clouds got in the way. From Jacksonville Beach to Daytona, nobody could see a thing.
At least I’ve got these:
This is SS Discovery back in March of 2009. I snapped this photograph of the shuttle while standing in my driveway. No pictures could ever do it justice.
I’ve even had the opportunity to watch SS Atlantis, the same shuttle that launched this morning, as it flew over my office building in May of last year. Atlantis is the smoke trail closest to the sun.
I was without a camera on the morning of SS Columbia’s launch when I saw something shimmer out of the corner of my eye. My daughter was with me and I encouraged her to look up and find the shuttle in the sky. Had I known then what would happen to those astronauts on their flight home, I would have never taken my eyes off of them.
NASA never did reach its goal of fifty manned space flights per year, but that doesn’t mean the space shuttle program was a failure. Accidents occurred and lives were lost, but essentially space was turned into a scientific workshop and African-Americans and women were treated as equals while in space and we worked side by side with Russians on the International Space Station, even after all that Cold War nonsense. So, no – the space shuttle program was not a failure.
As NASA closes its 30-year chapter in manned space flight, let’s not forget the brave men and women who were willing to risk it all to see it all.
And to share it all with us.