My alarm went off at 4:30am this morning, a wake up call I shared with the STS 135 astronauts. My trunk was packed with my camera gear, personal bag and a box full of cookies I made for the people I met at the turn basin at KSC for launch.
Pit stop at the gas station on the island before heading to KSC to meet my father. Lots of blurry-eyed tourists stood in line to buy breakfast and the paper that marked the end of the Space Shuttle program. I bought my paper and headed up to the gate as Rush’s Xanadu played through my speakers.
Traffic already packed the gate to get into KSC and after 20 minutes we made it in to the turn basin and I was the first car parked! I set up my tripod even though weather had our chances of liftoff down to 20% GO. We watched the astronauts drive up to launch pad 39A.
T-Minus 9 Minutes & Holding-a final rundown of system occurs including a final check up on weather. The clouds started to break and the sun was starting to peer out upon the crowds. All systems GO including emergency landing site even though the landing strip was poorly visible.
T-Minus 31 seconds and suddenly the crew called a stop. The clock stopped and the flight director went over a failure involving the beanie cap on the top of the external tank which was already removed. At 45 seconds into the window hold the clock remains.
T-Minus 10 Seconds the crowd starts to countdown with mission control. My nerves have me shaking and my eyes are already tearing up. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and LIFTOFF! In all honesty my adrenaline was going and all I could remember after liftoff was just shooting away. My eyes teared up immediately after takeoff and I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically at how amazing of an experience this was. The crowds rose to their feet for liftoff and we all clapped at the success of the liftoff.
Today was a historical day for the space program. Our mission has been completed to finish up with the ISS and retire the shuttles. Atlantis will land July 20th or 21st at KSC in Cape Canaveral and will remain at the space center to be put on display.
I feel blessed to have experienced 22 years of a program so innovative. I was on the playground for John Glenn’s return to flight and I was laying on my couch the dreadful morning Columbia broke up over Texas in 2003. The shuttle program has been an icon since it’s inception. Family and friends have worked for the space center for years including my father who has been with KSC since 1989.
This isn’t the end of space exploration even though many are led to believe it is. This is only a chapter in our nation’s history. Just like the years in between Apollo and the Shuttle Program, we are in transition for the future of manned space flight. Companies are already lending their ideas for contract with NASA for the future. In my eyes I see us back in space by the end of 2020.
I leave you all with a quote from Atlantis Commander Chris Ferguson:
“We’re not ending the journey today, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. Let’s light this shuttle one more time Mike and witness this nation at its best. The crew of Atlantis is ready to launch.”
Godspeed Atlantis, NASA, and God Bless America!