Author Topic: T minus one year for the shuttle program  (Read 656 times)

Offline shuttlefanatic

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T minus one year for the shuttle program
« on: 09/16/2009 04:58 pm »
Here's a random observation: the last shuttle launch is currently scheduled one year from today (actually, about one year from now).

It's kind of a rambling read at the moment, but I thought I'd share some of my early memories of the shuttle program.  Perhaps others would like to chime in...

I was 8 years old in 1981.  I can't remember what led to my interest in the space shuttle, perhaps hearing bits about the preparation on the evening news, but I remember begging my mom to let me get up at oh-dark-thirty to watch the first space shuttle launch (4AM west coast time).  I got up at the appointed time, and camped out in front of the TV in the living room.  I can't recall specifically if it was this launch or a later one, but I don't think my parents got up for it.

In 1984, my family moved to Georgia for a couple of years.  This put us in road trip distance of Kennedy Space Center, of which I'm pretty sure I motivated several.  For one reason or another, the launch attempts we went to were scrubbed, including one RSLS abort at T-3 seconds (STS-51F).  By January 1986, we were due to move back to California, and I was fairly well convinced I'd *never* see a launch.  But then, STS-61C was delayed yet again, to a Sunday morning, and my dad agreed to another weekend roadtrip.  It was something like a 7 hour drive, well into the night.  This was back in the days when you could drive right out onto the causeway, which we did, and sleep consisted of napping in the back of the car.  The launch went off at dawn.  Unlike on TV, it flew in silence save for the cheers of the crowd.  The shuttle was halfway up the sky before the rumbling started.  We drove home happy.

About a week later, we were hitting the road to return to California.  The morning of January 28 found us driving through western Texas.  I was looking out the window in the back seat, noticing that every mile or so a kestrel would be perched on the power lines along the road.  At some point my mom turned on the radio, and found some station where there was an awful lot of talking going on.  It might have been a minute before it really sunk in - the space shuttle blew up??  We stopped early that day in El Paso, found a motel, and turned on the TV...

As luck would have it, my dad took a job at Edwards AFB as a civilian contractor.  He helped get passes to take my high school science class on a field trip to see the first "Return to Flight" landing of Discovery at Edwards.  It seemed to close some sort of circle for me, having seen the last launch prior to Challenger, and the first landing after.  In the following years, I made an effort to get to Edwards for any landing that I could manage.  Each one was a little different.  I made a game out of trying to spot the shuttle as early as possible, often before the sonic booms arrived.  For each, I'd stop in the Dryden gift store to pick up a mission patch and pin.  I had 12 sets by the time I graduated college in 1995.