I saw my first space shuttle launch while a freshman in college, at Cocoa Beach with a close friend on March 8, 2001 – Discovery. My second was on June 5, 2002, from my college dorm apartment while on the phone with my mom – Endeavour. My third launch was Columbia, with my then-boyfriend (now husband) Adrian, on January 16, 2003. That was the final launch of Columbia, and I still remember waking up with Adrian on the morning of February 1st, in shock that the shuttle had been destroyed on re-entry.
Of course, after the disaster, the shuttle program was put on hold. After it was reinstated, we tried a few more times to go up and see launches, but they kept getting scrubbed and timing didn’t work out. When Discovery was being retired a few months ago, the three of us drove up to Titusville with my parents (and what felt like a million other people) and got there just in time to see Discovery‘s last launch on February 24, 2011, and the fourth that I’ve seen in person with my own eyes.
That brings us to today. Today was the final space shuttle launch, EVER. The Space Shuttle Atlantis, carrying the crew of STS-135, blasted off this morning, signifying the end of the space shuttle program as we know it and closing a chapter in American history and manned spaceflight. While I didn’t attend today’s launch in person, Adrian and I watched it together on TV. Zachary was at day camp, but we recorded it on the DVR so that he can watch when he gets home later. I couldn’t help feeling chills and sadness watching the engines firing up and seeing the shuttle lift off into space. It was especially sad (but awesome… truly awesome) watching Atlantis separate from the fuel tanks for the very last time.
I feel so thankful that I had the opportunity to share in American History and see four space shuttle launches. I am especially thankful that two of those launches I was able to share with my husband, and that I was able to attend the last one I went to with my parents and my little boy, as well. I am proud to have friends who have participated in space research and worked on engineering projects especially for the space shuttles.
I am hopeful that one day we can celebrate a new space program some time in our lifetime so that our children can still grow up with dreams of becoming an astronaut and exploring the amazing, wondrous space outside of our tiny little planet.
Image from NASA Shuttle Page
Image from FL State Senator Bill Nelson’s Blog. Photo cred: NASA/Kim Shiflet
“Thousands of Kennedy Space Center employees stand side-by-side to form a full-scale outline of a space shuttle. They gathered recently in honor of the shuttle’s 30-year legacy as NASA prepared for the final shuttle mission.”
2 thoughts on “Godspeed, Atlantis – the final space shuttle launch and the end of an era”
Great post Karen. It gave me chills. I share the same hope as you, that our kids will still be able to grow up dreaming of maybe becoming an astronaut. We shall see.
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