The Last Launch

Today was the final launch of the Space Shuttle.   Atlantis lifted off this morning from the Kennedy Space Center for STS-135.  And that’s it.  America’s manned space program is, for all intents and purposes, finished… at least for now.  And that makes me sad.

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

July 8, 2011 The end of an era.

I grew up with America’s space program, and followed it the way some people follow Major League Baseball or the NFL.   And, before I forget, back when reporting on the space program was done by people who really understood it, you never would have heard the term “blast off,” like you do now.  That’s strictly science fiction stuff.  NASA never used the term, and the reporters who knew what they were talking about never did either.  The correct term is “lift off.”

I remember the launch of Alan Shepard,  the first American in space.  I was in 1st grade at White Street School in Springfield, Massachusetts.   They brought a TV into our classroom… and that was a rare treat.

I watched the launch of Apollo 11, which sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins to the moon, from our driveway in Winter Park, Florida.  I just ran across the picture of it the other day.  We were about 40 miles away, so we could just see the brilliant glare from those massive Saturn V engines.  And I’m glad that when the pictures came back from the developer, I circled it with a pen… because the picture is now faded enough so that you can’t really see the flame anymore… just the ink circle.  When you see the picture, you have to take my word for it that that’s what it is.

I was there at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of STS-1, the very first Shuttle mission, covering it for WDIZ Radio in Orlando.  I was 27 years old, and it was the culmination of a lifelong dream.   I had always wanted to cover a launch and I finally got the opportunity.   I was also there for the launch of Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, a night launch or two, and one landing at KSC.   And I watched Challenger explode from a few miles up the road, in Melbourne, and provided an account on ABC radio.  In January of 2010, on the 24th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, I did a blog post on the subject.

Today, I’m 56 years old.  And during this morning’s launch, I was with my wife Tammy at High Point Regional Health System in North Carolina, for pre-admission counseling, blood work, and post-op care instructions prior to my open heart surgery, scheduled for Tuesday.   I saw a replay of the launch on my Android phone a few minutes after it had taken place.  Quite a difference.  All things considered, I would have preferred being at the Cape for this last one.

I sure wish it wasn’t the last one.

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