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CmdrTaco Watches Atlantis Liftoff 130

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the here-we-go-again dept.
When someone offers you the once in a lifetime chance to see something as historic as the final Space Shuttle Flight: You go. As a child I assembled a puzzle of the Challenger illuminated by those bright xenon lights, and dreamt of space flight. And last week I went to see the last launch the world will ever see of a Space Shuttle. Atlantis. STS-135. What follows is the story of my brief stay at the Kennedy Space Center.

My flight was uneventful. Despite spending more time getting my luggage and rental car in Orlando than I actually spent FLYING from Detroit, I checked into an Orlando hotel with enough time to get a few hours sleep before my early morning drive to the Kennedy Space Center. Traffic wasn't bad at all with like 30 hours to go. I got my badge using 2 forms of ID: My Drivers License, and My Michigan Fishing License. This tickled me immensely (I had my passport in my bag just in case. I wasn't taking any chances!). As I drove up the road, I saw the VAB from miles away. I saw it once before when I was in middle school. It was massive then, and even bigger now. I choked up a bit for what wouldn't be the last time.

Press Site

After several security checkpoints I got parked, and found my way to the Press Site. I was more than bit lost. This place was pure chaos: I was told that 2600 press had been accredited for this event: surpassing the 1500 for the previous mission, and well beyond the sub-1000 that has been typical for launches. It was gonna be insane, and everyone knew it. Every inch of wall had someone leaning or sitting against it. Laptops and Cameras filled every inch of desk and most inches of floor as well.

Over the course of the day, it was increasingly gloomy outside. The skies were dark. The 30% chance of launch kept everyone a bit in the dumps. During a press conference, a series of massive thunderclaps made people on camera jump, and everyone present just sorta accepted that Friday would see a scrub. Various statistics and terms were tossed about by the folks in the press room that all combined to tell a story that it was basically time to call it a day.

I met up with several of the guys from Spacearium: Matt Travis was the guy who helped me get my badge. He's a wiry fellow utterly obsessed with all things space. Strong opinions. Sarcastic. Amazingly dedicated to his work. When sane people were trying to sleep, he was constantly tweeting or posting to his site. He wanted to get the news out a few minutes before his competitors. He is dedicated to his work, and incredibly intense. The sort of fellow you'd much prefer on your side. You should really read his site: he craves the traffic, and he deserves it. He also works on The Ares Institute, Inc which is a non-profit that is trying to get students interested in space projects to get them into math & science. You can donate some cash- they are a non-profit.

Working with Matt were some cool photographers: Aubrey Hatcher normally photographs people. Her portfolio is awesome- If you live near the space coast and need a photographer for a wedding or your kids, you could do no better. I was seriously jealous of her skill. Mike Killian was very clear: he doesn't want to take pictures of weddings: he was all about the machines. As far as I can tell, he basically had been living at KSC taking cool pictures of whatever he could get access to. His pictures put mine to shame. He shot countless images that deserve to be your background image.

Carl Darden works at a small observatory. He and I were noobs together, riding on buses, hanging out with our jaws on the floor. Lloyd Behrendt is the eccentric artist type: he photographs on film and paints the prints for galleries. He's been watching launches forever and had tons of energy.

There were countless other cool people I met too. Several Slashdot readers tapped me on the shoulder, asked me questions, or even shared an umbrella with me while I needed to change a lens in the rain. It's always a wonderful experience to encounter Slashdot readers out in the "real" world. We're a breed apart. We smell our own. A bit of that social dysfunction coupled with passion and knowledge. I spend so much time isolated in Michigan that I often forget how real you guys are, and how we all are sort of a 'type'.

For me, besides the launch, all I wanted was a chance to get close and see Atlantis on the pad. It didn't look like I would get that chance since there was a thousand more people here than they really could handle, the buses were limiting folks. 3 buses lined up, and a hundred photographers laid their expensive gear in a long row to be nuzzled by bomb sniffing dogs. After more than a half our of waiting, the clouds burst. Since I was standing by on the off chance of an empty seat, I grabbed my bag and ran. I couldn't have been wetter if I jumped in a pool by the time I made it back to the press center.

The NASA Tweetup buses left before the photographers. They got to see the gantry retraction. There was palpable bitterness by the reporters I talked to. I think they pretty universally understood the importance of this grassroots thing, but it didn't help things knowing that these upstarts were lollygagging in an air conditioned tent with Elmo, and jumping in front of professional photographer's shots. And they got to see the retraction: a pretty big event around these parts, while the vast majority of the press stood in a downpour waiting to ride a bus with their gear under umbrellas and trash bags.

What a Day

I got the last daytime bus. we traced the road to the landing pad, passing the crawler parked on the giant rocky road that STS-135, and it's 134 predecessors traced before it. The shuttle loomed on the horizon, and as we parked, I was told that we were to stand on the crawler road. Hallowed ground to me. I stood slack-jawed, staring at this massive icon. The orange tank. The SRBs. And Atlantis itself. It was bigger and smaller than I imagined. I took some pictures that I later downloaded and was very happy with, but the vets complained about the clouds and haze. They spoke about how the story would be the clouds and the gloom and the sadness surrounding the end of the shuttle program.

I had a hard time sharing the pessimism: I was soaked. And giddy. When we got back, I told everyone I met "Did you know there's a Spaceship over there? Outside? Getting Rained on? A SPACESHIP! SERIOUSLY!". And it got better.

After a long walk to the cafeteria and a terrible dinner, Carl and I got in line for a "Sunset" photo opportunity. The bitter vets said that it would be just the same light as the daytime photos I had taken a few hours ago, but I knew this would be the last chance for me to get so close. I missed the first bus and wasn't really expecting to make it as the sun was dropping in the sky. But the long line worked in my favor: I got a seat on the very last bus- sitting near Klaus Wilkens, a photographer who had taken pictures for NASA as far back as Apollo. He told tales of days of old, of Haselblad cameras and film and the migration to digital.

The bus driver told us that the best bug repellent was some hand lotion and gin. I asked everyone I could how many launches they had seen. Some remembered STS-1. A few were around for the Challenger disaster. The knowing smiles were so sincere. They knew this was the end, but they all had a job to do. The NASA folks had a pride about them even tho I imagine almost every one of them is out of a job.

Atlantis at Night

And then we arrived for the last time. There stood Atlantis illuminated by the giant spotlights lights as the sun fell. The cloudy skies didn't matter, everything was cloudy and then dark blues and rapidly turned black. I fired off a few pictures. I tried to take a picture of the shuttle reflected in a puddle but before I could get my exposure right the NASA escort made me get my ankle out of the road. (They are strict out there, but fair). The bugs were unbelievable: Giant hungry beasts out for my blood- I wished I had that Gin and Lotion combination the driver mentioned, if only to drink the gin. Everyone was swatting the monsters and being consumed alive. But it was totally worth it. I got a picture that I will treasure as long as I live. It's pretty close to that picture that I assembled in puzzle form in the 80s at the start of the shuttle program. Sure, other pictures will look more pro, but I took this one with my hands. My eyes. My camera. This really was mine. I was pretty emotional. I was torn when it was time to leave: the bugs were awful, but I wished I could have had a few more minutes in front of this symbol of my childhood. Or maybe a tent.

We had a long night ahead of us still. Tanking wasn't scheduled to start until 1:30am or so. If tanking was delayed, it meant we would all go back to homes and hotels for the night, returning the next day for a saturday launch But if tanking went ahead, it meant we would all be sleeping in our cars or at our desks briefly, waiting for a day that would start at 6am. To kill time we went out to the lagoon shore and Mike shot some beautiful time- lapse photos of the shuttle and the big xenons firing off into the clouds, as well as the giant clock and the VAB. He'll sell you a hi-res copy. It would be worth it it's picture 143-145 in that gallery: everyone buy some prints so he can buy a full frame camera!

I spent much of the evening waiting in the chair reserved in the press site for Make Magazine. I figured Tim O'Reily wouldn't mind to much! NASA confirmed tanking was a go, and I retired to sleep in the back seat of my rental Hyundai Elantra. It was one of the worst nights of sleep I've ever had. My 6 foot tall frame is not designed to sleep in a fetal position in the back seat of a compact car.

I awoke to my phone and a call to hurry! They were boarding the buses to the astrovan loading: the last time the public sees the astronauts before the launch. I hurried over, stopping quickly to set up my tripod on the shore, saving my spot for the launch that I still wasn't really expecting to happen. The storms from yesterday and the lightning and thunder seemed to ominous. I got in line just as the bomb sniffing dogs were doing their thing.

We spent a lot of time waiting for the astronauts. The wire services and more experienced photographers had set up a wall of ladders. I gave Carl my spare camera to take some pictures, but he was unsure how to use it, and ended up shooting over 100 out of focus pictures! While we were waiting people talked about the odds of a launch, and someone said something I hadn't heard: we were a go. That meant that if it was 11:26 right NOW, the weather would not be prohibitive. I started watching the skies more intently, and realized there was a lot more blue than there was at any point yesterday. For the first time, I thought that maybe I could actually see a shuttle launch today.

They Seem Nice

The astronauts came out and waved in their fashionably orange suits. It lasted just a few seconds, and then they boarded the van and were gone, on their way to space. A hoard of reporters returned to buses. Uhura was there and Carl tried to take her picture with the lens cap on. I couldn't stop laughing.

After that is was a waiting game. There was really nothing for us to do but wait as NASA reported little tidbits of information about the state of the launch. I visited the #NASATweetup tent and saw Seth Green pose in the captains chair of a capsule mock-up. Several people in the press room cited names of numerous celebrities present. I snagged a bottle of water from the Boeing booth. Gotta stay hydrated in all that Florida heat.

The clock left its planned hold at T-Minus 09:00 right as I returned to the tripod I left by the shore at sunrise. I mounted my camera and got everything ready as the clock counted down. The field of people was giddy. A woman nearby me had a radio and was repeating the announcements as NASA made them. There was a constant amplified warnings telling people to stay out of the way of the giant clock so the networks could video it.

At 31 seconds, that clock stopped. The entire crowd freaked out. We heard word that there was a fault warning on a retraction. Everyone started grumbling and freaking out, assuming that this was the end of our day. But a moment or two later the clock started: You have never heard a cheer like this. A thousand strangers chanted together with the countdown. And then it happened.

Launch

The massive clouds of smoke billowed out the sides of the tower poking out above the trees. The shuttle rising slowly, and then faster. And then the noise shaking your guts from over 3 miles away. As the shuttle gets higher you see this column of fire pushing it up faster and faster.

And then it was gone: lost in the clouds. The last time human eyes will see a shuttle leave a launchpad. I held down the remote trigger on my camera the whole time: there was no way I was going to witness this event through the eyepiece of a gadget. You'll see better pictures in magazines, but I've never taken a picture of a rocket before, and I was happy that it wasn't a blurry mess. My memory will fade but those pictures won't.

Everyone cheered. Yelled. Whooped. The excitement was unbelievable. I actually teared up, but I'm pretty sure nobody noticed me wiping my eyes with my shirt. The folks closest to me know that this isn't exactly an uncommon event for me, but I felt it all come back: A little kid alone in his basement building a puzzle of the shuttle, dreaming of space. Watching my dad play a silly Apollo moon lander simulation game on a monochrome Compaq 8086 PC luggable. Seeing Challenger through the library window on a day when I was to young to understand what it meant for 7 people to die in the name of science exploration. I learned about computers because of all this stuff. The Space Shuttle was an honest to god spaceship. It filled the gap between science fiction and science reality.

I don't know what's next for NASA. For manned spaceflight. For the Kennedy Space Center itself. Times are changing: with the rise of Space-X and the constant budget concerns, it's unclear which of our hopes and dreams will actually come to fruition. But I was a little kid who dreamt of the shuttle. I have a 3 year old now, and I told him before I left that I was going to go see a Spaceship, and I think he thought I was lying. He knows the Millennium Falcon is a spaceship, but that it's also pretend. Atlantis was real. I saw it with my own eyes with a tower of fire underneath it. It shook my body and I hope my sons have something to inspire them the same way.

We're going to pay the Russians to put our guys in space now. And when we do finally get back up there on our own, it won't be the same it'll be just a capsule. I understand the economics and science of the decision but we have a giant metal statue on an island off New York City that challenged the world to come here and be free. But that giant tower just stands there silently. For the last 30 years we've had another giant metal statue that we strapped a huge fuel tank and 2 rockets to, and we shot it up into space over a hundred times. If the Statue of Liberty reminds us of our freedoms and opportunities in this country, the Space Shuttle shows us what we can do with them. But only if we were willing to put down the puzzle, and crack open a textbook. Learn some math. Some science. And dream big.

Here's me, in 8th grade with my brother from my first visit to Kennedy space center some 25 years ago.

A Long Time Ago

Here are my photos of the trip where you can find higher res versions of everything on this page, plus a hundred or so more. Thanks again to Matt Travis from Spacearium for getting me there. Hopefully I'll see you again someday. Thanks to Mike, Carl, Aubrey and Lloyd for being good company and answering my dumb questions about F-Stops and rules. And thanks to the countless NASA folks who were nothing but friendly and pleasant, even when lines, weather and crowds made things tough. I saw nothing but class the entire time.

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CmdrTaco Watches Atlantis Liftoff

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  • I actually teared up, but I'm pretty sure nobody noticed me wiping my eyes with my shirt.

    Yet you posted that here so we can make fun of you. This is why I love slashdot: the dedication of the editorial staff to trolling.
    • by Grave (8234)

      Make fun of? If you wouldn't get a bit emotional seeing the last of the Space Shuttles launching, then you wouldn't have deserved to be there.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:18PM (#36722838) Homepage Journal

    I wish I could have been there with you -- I saw the shuttle's maiden flight, although I didn't think I was going to be able to. I was working at Disney, and couldn't get off of work. I still got to see it, though -- it was visible from Orlando. The fire is extremely bright even 60 miles away. It was inspiring even from there.

    Actually, I saw every shuttle flight until the Challenger disaster; we'd just moved back to Illinois and I was out looking for work at the time, so I didn't even see it on TV.

    The best launches are the ones up close. The shuttle from five miles away is the second loudest sound I've ever heard, the loudest being an SR-71 from a mile off.

    I'm jealous... but then, I saw the first moon landing! ;P

    I was told that 2600 press had been accredited for this event:

    Until I finished the sentence I thought maybe they invited 2600.org. That would have been surprising!

    I saw the VAB from miles away

    That's the "vehicle assembly building" for those who don't belong at slashdot.

    Is that photo of the goateed guy with the shades you? You look like a heavier, younger me.

    • by powerlord (28156)

      What he ^--- said, definitely Jealous! :D

      Congrats Taco. Wish I could have made it down there.

      I remember Columbia lifting off for the first time and getting lucky enough to have the Chicken Pox that week. I was glued to the TV at my grandparents and ended up building my own Lego Space Shuttle.

      A couple of years later my father took me down to see a "real shuttle launch" (just imagine the excited kid attached to that phrase :) ), and we slogged out every morning to go through security, get on a bus and wait

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Then the first one you saw was the first one I missed! We'd just moved back to Ilinois right before the disaster, and I was looking for work. I'd seen the previous ones from Orlando, one from Tampa, and two of them from the cape.

        Did they still have that humungous Saturn V laying there at Kennedy? They had a Mercury capsule there and a bunch of other stuff, too.

        I'm looking forward to commercial space outfits like Space-X. The only thing left on my bucket list is to visit space. That bright blue ceiling that'

        • by powerlord (28156)

          Yup, the Saturn V was still there (so far as I remember).

          Yeah, Space-X, Armadillo Aerospace, Scaled Composites, etc. all look very promising (progeny of the Delta Clipper for the most part :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X [wikipedia.org]).

          Feels odd/fitting that most of the most promising private space flight ventures have roots in a program put forth/inspired by one of the luminaries of SciFi (of course considering A.C.Clark is credited with GeoSynchronous Satellites and others other ideas/inventions,

  • by wsxyz (543068) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:21PM (#36722906)
    What is this doing here. If you want a blog, why don't you just go get your own cmdrtaco.blogspot.com or something like that?
    • by DirePickle (796986) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:29PM (#36723078)
      Dude. This is his blog.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      So, umm, a nerd who runs a news site experiences what will in all probability be the last manned mission launched from the United States, and then has the unmitigated gall to actually report it?

      It's news. We're nerds. It matters.

      (OK, I see your point, that kind of stuff has no place on our Slashdot! :)

      Congrats, Taco, on getting to see the last shuttle launch. Thanks, Taco, for letting us see it through your eyes.

      • It was a good article, but Cmdrtaco didn't do himself any favors with this bad start:

        My flight was uneventful. Despite spending more time getting my luggage and rental car in Orlando than I actually spent FLYING from Detroit, I checked into an Orlando hotel with enough time to get a few hours sleep before my early morning drive to the Kennedy Space Center. Traffic wasn't bad at all with like 30 hours to go.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      This happens to be Taco's site, n00b. GOML.

      • It USED to be Taco's site. He sold it to Andover.net which became OSDN, and it's now owned by GeekNet, Inc. This [cmdrtaco.net] is Taco's site.
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          IINM he's still in charge.

          • He's not on the board of directors, or listed as one of the managers.
            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              Who cares about the company? If he wants a story posted it's posted. If he wants your comment at -1 it's at -1. If he wants you to have fifteen mod points every day you get fifteen mod points every day. I don't care who's getting the money, it's Taco's site. He controls it.

    • Yeradork. Welcome to The House that Rob (and Hemos, etc.) built.

      Indeed, if you weren't such a n00b, you'd know that the site used to be a fair bit more personal than it is now. And I daresay, most of us liked it that way.

      Now go home.

      • Isn't this the planet you designed, and if so, knowing how false the whole thing is, why bother visiting?

        Sorry, but I've never seen you post before. That would be because I'm young and naive and all the stuff the troll want to add to that.

        I will say this though: The first thing I thought was "This IS his blog" and that's because I do the research, I've known for years who wrote it. I'm mucho fascinated by /.'s history and culture.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Nah, he just did minor work on one of the subroutines... fjords, wasn't it, slarti? Besides, his name is not important. What I'd like to know is if Earth's OS is open source or proprietary? I'm guessing that latter, since it's a corporate undertaking.

          • Red Hat Enterprise Server is corporate, but open source. Windows is corporate with open sores. I see no conflict there...

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              That's why it was a guess rather than a flat-out statement.

              • I'm still chuffed with one of the wittiest comments I've posted yet. Think about it, there's layers there, that's unusual for me! Open sores, you know, vulnerable infection, so it might as well be Open Source.

                I've never seen anyone use Open Sores to refer to Windows like that, especially with the comparison to the correctly-spelled version. I know, I know, over-analysis of the joke, but I didn't see just how good it was till I read it again,,,

        • But, as I've been here since juuuuust after Chips and Dips days, I've probably posted a thousand-odd times, overall. There's a reason my UID is 3395 or somesuch -- and the reason is because I slacked off getting registered when account creation was established. :-)

          As for visiting, well, the answer's obvious: I like the skiing.

        • If you're interested in the /. history and culture, for what it's worth, feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I rarely bark, and never bite. Rob, also, is very, VERY approachable -- but that being said, while I receive "mail", he gets "MAIL". In other words, his repl(ies|y), while friendly, are generally short, and usually don't follow threads very well. (I say this from the whopping half-dozen "conversations" we've had in the past dozen-odd years, so I'm probably not the world's most authoritative source i

      • by iceaxe (18903)

        ... the site used to be a fair bit more personal than it is now. And I daresay, most of us liked it that way.

        Hear, hear.

        I certainly did.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I was in mosquito lagoon, 7 miles north of the pad, drifting along with 80 other kayakers. Caught some fish and saw a shuttle launch, not a bad day.

  • by G3ckoG33k (647276) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:31PM (#36723134)

    Thanks for the report!

    Shuttles always give me tears and goosebumps.

    Can't help it.

  • by Drethon (1445051) on Monday July 11, 2011 @01:34PM (#36723184)
    You took us further than we could have imagined but not as far as some may have hoped. Here's to hoping the future will take us further.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Your hopes are not only almost guaranteed, but almost guaranteed to be exceeded. I lived in a time Man had yet to leave the atmosphere. When I was 14 and Star Trek came on TV, the communicators, flat screen monitors, self-opening doors, and lots of other stuff were fantasy none of us would ever live to see. It's commonplace now; you have your cell phone, flat screen computer (there were no PCs then), and it's been a long time since I've been in a supermarket that I had to open the door to.

      In "Wrath of Khan"

  • I work with remote sensing satellites, and I was lucky enough to have been invited to the launch of Landsat 7 in 1999. While its launch vehicle was not as big as the space shuttle's, we were allowed to be closer to it.

    It is an amazing thing to realize that we humans can throw something up so hard and so fast that it cannot come back down.

    Glad you got the experience, Taco.

    • "It is an amazing thing to realize that we humans can throw something up so hard and so fast that it cannot come back down."

      You really should get out more. You would already know this if you had attended fraternity parties.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Thanks Cdr. I always wanted to see a shuttle launch, and I won't now. Thanks for sharing your experience, I found it enjoyable, and this long time slashdot readers misses you posting more of your own work like this on the the blog.

    As for the future of space, the shuttle was trapped in underfunded over promised post Apollo politics and bureaucracy of the 1970's. It would have been nice to have been able to develop newer and better. I am looking forward to success of SpaceX and all the other new space co

    • Rob, we all know you're a big ol' mushball, but we also enjoy the humanity you bring to Slashdot. I truly miss the personal touches you used to give on a regular basis -- but this story makes up for it a fair bit.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Don't worry. He'll review another crappy CGI comic book based movie soon so you can smooch his rear some more. Until that fine fine day comes along you'll just have to be happy to know that you're keeping the husk of a once important tech site alive with mindless banter and memes. It's kinda like the Terry Schivo of the web anymore.

  • Very nicely written. Thank you for sharing. Slashdot just seems like the right place to read something like this that hits folks like us at the gut level. Now, if only you could be there for the landing (cause after all, isn't that what makes the Shuttle special)!
  • My first "timestamped" memory is of Apollo 8 circuiting the moon. I only wish I'd had the time to catch a shuttle launch; I remember, when the first one launched, Asimov wrote a story, "The Last Shuttle". Didn't think it'd come so soon.

  • On a nice experience, and a nice writeup.

    I especially liked this line:

    "The last time human eyes will see a shuttle leave a launchpad."

    Makes me imagine that the planetary intelligence in the Zarkitron VII cluster will see this launch again, eons from now, when the light from our tiny planet reaches them. Yeah, those ain't human eyes.

    I hope at least on of the museums will set up their retired shuttle for interior walkthrough, instead of just putting them on floor display like the Enterprise at Udvar-Hazy.

    RIP

  • Night launch, 4:00 am after being out there for hours, they scrub with under 10 seconds left, because they missed the window by 2 frickin seconds. Next night the energy in the crowd just wasn't the same. But, I'll always remember feeling that sound. It's not the sight of seeing the shuttle go up that's amazing, it's the sound.
  • I'm neither as excited nor as sad about this as I thought I might be.

    I think my attitude, deep down, is that it's been a long time coming, and the shuttle program is not efficient, in gross, and we need to get on to what's next.

  • Not as close as Taco, but still there. It was magnificent. After that, we went to the Warbird Museum and flew in a C-47 WWII Transport that was used to drop paratroopers in Normandy, D-Day.

    In all, a great trip. I hate Florida, but the KSC/Warbird was all worth it.

  • I remember my Dad waking me up to watch the first Mercury launch on a blurry black and white tv in western Wisconsin when I was four. He wanted me to remember that moment and I always have. As a kid in the 60's I was facinated by the space program and followed it closely. I was sitting with my Dad again when Armstrong steeped on the moon.

    Several years ago I was talking one night with my son who now lives in Orlando. He was outside walking around and noticed a strange glow in the sky and, after a moment,

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I know that many people see NASA as some big money pit that provides little value

      There are few technologies developed in the last half century that don't owe at least a little to the space program; especially medical technology. NASA's comparitively meager budget is money well spent.

    • the fact right now is, space shuttle was the most advanced space craft the human civilization has ever had. and now it has been retired, without any replacement, without any PLAN for a replacement. similarly, the concorde was the fastest passenger airliner the human civilization ever had. it was retired years ago, and there has been no plane that can match its awesomeness.

      hari seldon said it decades ago: the galactic empire is dying.

  • I was walking in Paris, when suddenly I saw a shuttle on top of a large plane (a Boeing I think). it was back around 1983.
    I had not heard about it in the news before, so it was a big shock!
    • What you saw was a Shuttle Carrier Aircraft [wikipedia.org] which is just a modified Boeing 744. I have a punch of postcards of the shuttle that I got from my grandmother when she saw a shuttle launch when I was little. Each one has a picture and some info about the picture.
  • My first & only shuttle launch was down near Cocoa, Florida. We were ten miles away and the ground beneath me shook, it was incredible.
  • With my youngest daughter. That was an amazing experience, especially when they pointed out the space station as it flew over us in orbit, just minutes from launch, with the shuttle following the path of the space station after launch. The sky lit up, the shuttle was up in the air, and then what seemed like forever afterwards (we were about 7 miles away) a low powerful rumble shook us as we watched from across the river. Really a cool experience.
  • Awesome, awesome pic, taken from a Shuttle Training Aircraft:
    http://i.space.com/images/i/10816/original/atlantis-launch-view-above.jpg [space.com]

    #3 in the series at http://www.space.com/12208-nasa-final-space-shuttle-launch-photos.html [space.com] . #11 is also cool.

  • A night launch and totally bad ass. I got to say I am not sad the program is over. We can move on to the next generation of things now. I hope they start making the programs more about human curiosity and exploration. Instead of just a defense against the Russians or the Chinese.
  • Accent : Deep East Texas dripping with envy cloaked in sarcasm. Well ain't yeewww just tooo spayyshull Mister Cmdr Tahko.....
  • It makes me happy that slashdot (so to speak) was so physically close to this last launch (but not too close! ;) It's almost like you were some spirit of our combined hopes and dreams present to see-off this incarnation of their embodiment. If our hopes and dreams remain true, the next incarnation will be greater. Thank you for having been there for the last, and I hope (soon) you will be there for the first launch of the next.
  • by rwade (131726) on Monday July 11, 2011 @03:11PM (#36724926)

    We're going to pay the Russians to put our guys in space now. And when we do finally get back up there on our own, it won't be the same it'll be just a capsule.

    So what if it is a capsule. There is not enough energy on the planet available to do more than 20 years worth of missions sending space-shuttle sized payloads to Mars, if it is even technically possible or fiscally justifable.

    So what if it is a capsule? At least it will break new ground in manned space flight -- the things that aren't known about low-earth orbit, and there are many, can be better explored with unmanned sensors and the ISS than the space shuttle.

    The entire point of the space shuttle was to cheaply get payload up to low-earth orbit from whence the payload would continue [wikipedia.org] on [wikipedia.org] it's [wikipedia.org] way [wikipedia.org]. Well, that never happened. It was supposed to be $7 million a mission. It's closer to a 1.5 billion per mission [wikipedia.org].

    The space shuttle was best used to get the ISS to orbit and now it's served it's time. From here on out, I'm fine with just capsules -- not just fine, really, but more excited about manned space flight than I ever have been.

    • So what if it is a capsule. There is not enough energy on the planet available to do more than 20 years worth of missions sending space-shuttle sized payloads to Mars, if it is even technically possible or fiscally justifable.

      Nonsense. There's more energy in a single hurricane than what it would take to send 20 shuttle sized payloads to Mars. It takes 3.29x10^7 joules to put a kilogram of mass into low earth orbit. That's 9.1 kilowatt-hours or about a dollar's worth of electricity. The cost of running the shuttle is not the cost of the fuel. That lies within the statistical noise of the other costs.

      • by rwade (131726)

        Wow; what a post. Love it when someone comes out and says something like "nonsense." Offensive and non-persuasive, bro. A few things:

        1) You note the energy to get mass to low earth orbit; what about Mars? I made no assertions about the absense of enough energy to get payloads to low earth orbit.

        2) How do you know how much energy is in a hurricane? We cite sources here on slashdot.

        3) I didn't say 20 shuttle sized payloads. I said 20 years-worth of missions.

        • by Urkki (668283)

          Seriously, these things are in different orders of magnitude entirely.

          Hurricane uses/releases about 5.2 x 10^19 Joules/day [noaa.gov]. OTOH, "In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption was 474 exajoules (474×10^18 J=132,000 TWh)." [wikipedia.org]

          So, roughly, one day of a single hurricane equals one year of humanity, energy wise.

          Seriously, this calls for a bad car analogy. Being worried about the amount of energy used by any conceivable number of Mars missions is like being worried that if you wax your car after washing it, that

        • Well, here's [wired.com] where I got my figures. It assumes 100% efficiency. So let's knock that down to 1%. That would be 3.2x10^9 joules or $100 per kilogram to Low Earth Orbit. This site [s-cool.co.uk] quotes a value of 6.3x10^7 joules to loft a kilogram of mass to infinity, which is about double what it takes to get to LEO. This is likely the source of the saying "Once you get to earth orbit, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system.". Again, lets overestimate and say it takes 100 times that much energy to get to Mars
    • this is all bullshit. science will never advance if it does not produce awe within the people who matter. the space shuttle did produce that awe. capsules are just...lame. i don't care what the bean counters say. why not ask nasa to develop some entirely new tech like rail gun or laser pulse launches?

  • My parents took me to see the first shuttle launch in person, which is one of my earliest clear memories. I went with them again to this final launch, and I brought the oldest two of my own children. I am honored to have been witness to the beginning and end of a great era in human spaceflight, and I know I gave my children a very meaningful memory to hold on to.

    My personal feelings are mixed. I know that the huge government space program is cost inefficient and wasteful, but it's also so expensive that nob
  • "[...] As a child I assembled a puzzle of the Challenger [...]"

    Huh - as a child, *I* watched Neil Armstrong walking on the moon...

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      As a child I watched the first Mercury flight -- on TV. I was 17 when Armstrong and Aldrin made history (I journaled about it here on the moon landing's 40th anniversary).

      • I'm too young to remember the Mercury missions, but do remember the Mercury capsule as an iconic feature of something I'd just missed...

  • I wanted to see this one, I applied for the lottery for tickets to get close but didn't get in...

    You gave a great account of the experience of being there, and it's nice to see that rather than just riding out a press pass because you had one, you obviously belonged there.

  • Phasing out the shuttles is part of the opportunity cost of giving all our money to greedy banks. They salt it away in their numbered accounts (reports say they're sitting on $1.7 trillion of our bailout money) and science, education, and other sectors are cut to the bone or killed. They're even cutting the Small Business Innovation & Research (SBIR) grants, which are meant to encourage entrepreneurship in America and, you know, generate jobs.

    The SuperCollider in Texas was the first big death in moder

  • Have worked at the space center for 29 years in Nov. I was not here for the first several launches. There were people who launched Atlantis in the firing room that that has launched STS 1. Anyone in the world that launches rockets is doing a hard, amazing job. Things like this are important. Very Important. There are other things that are very important. Just like going into space they, need to be done, and done as well as they can be, and improve over time. But they aren't urgent and won't constantly be th
  • I feel lucky that I've had the privilege to see the last launch of both programs up close (if 10 miles can be considered close). The Apollo launch had a higher 'coolness' factor because it was a moon launch going at night. It signaled the end of the golden era of space exploration. It was a great ride and will never be repeated. The Shuttle program, like Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, will give way to the next step. The Shuttle's day is done and it's time for the commercial entities to carry the torch or in
  • by iceaxe (18903)

    I really enjoyed this story, and wish I had been there too.

    I remember seeing the Enterprise when it was en route (don't remember which direction) between Florida and Edwards, as it sat on the tarmac at Carswell AFB. My dad drove me out to see it, sitting on top of its piggyback jumbo jet, lit up in the night, and I was awestruck. I think he was too.

    I never got to see a live launch in person, though I watched a number of them live on television, and later on the net.

    I'm looking forward to the next steps, wha

  • by teidou (651247)
    Thanks man. That was really nice. I wish I had been there too. Best wishes with the 3 year old...
  • ...watching from the Causeway. EPIC EPIC EPIC! Dream come true for me!
    -Sigmon

  • What a great write-up and thanks for all the great images.

    I had seen a few launches from my school campus in the mid 80s. But the first launch that I attended in a more direct manner was STS-61B, the Atlantis in November of 1985. It was a late evening launch and was quite spectacular to see in person, even though we could only watch from across the water outside Kennedy Space Center crowding the sides of the roadways with many others who did not have access. So it was quite a thrill when I got the opportuni

  • On the press site, shooting stills and HD video. (I actually think I saw you when I was in the tweet-up tent getting a few interviews.)
    Would you like any of our video or stills? I am getting the footage from the NASA cameras as well.

    It is sad though, the ending of an era, with no new era available...

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