The end of an era

I’ve been searching for eloquent words about the end of the Shuttle Program, a program which inspired me to dream of becoming an astronaut, of leading me on the path to study Aeronautical/Astronautical Engineering at Purdue, and spending the past 13 years supporting the International Space Station, Constellation, and now Commercial Crew at NASA Johnson Space Center.

I simply don’t have the words.  I have tears.

And I technically only worked on the shuttle program for 6 months.  My heart goes out to the thousands who dedicated their lives to the program and the vehicle at NASA Johnson, Marshall, and Kennedy Space Centers and to the men and women who built them in California.  And of course, to the astronauts who flew them.

Enterprise, Columbia, Discovery, Challenger, Atlantis, and Endeavour will forever be a part of our generation.

A friend of mine, Scott (@poindexterbjj on Twitter ) shared these words with me:

“…While there are new things on the (seemingly distant) horizon, the shuttle remains NASA’s (and McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing’s) greatest achievement.  It is the manifestation of genius and greatness.  It is an icon of our generation.

We grew up with the shuttle.  Perhaps as I did, you watched the launch of STS-1.  If you were like me, you wondered why the fuel tank had changed from white to orange (pretty astute for a 5-year-old).  We watched two of them leave but never return.  And yet, through it all, the shuttle always came back greater than it was before.  It was the shuttle that served as one of the first bridges between Russia and the US when Atlantis went to Mir.  It was the shuttle that allowed us, along with many others around the world, to establish the greatest technical achievement in human history, the ISS.  People would come from all around the world to watch the shuttle fly because it was the physical manifestation of hope for a brighter future for all humanity.

So, yes, a little emotion is understandable.”

Yes.  What he said.

I had the great honor of being able to view the last shuttle launch from the KSC Press Site.  I purposely stood behind the countdown clock so I could intensify the sound and the feeling of the launch.  I felt my organs shake within my body and the sound was amazing.  Here is the video I captured and it was edited with the help of my friend, Romeo (@romeoch on Twitter).

There was no “wow, oh wow” from me.  I was too busy crying.  I couldn’t stop thinking “This is it. This is the last time for perhaps 5-6 years that we launch humans into space from U.S. soil.”  I understand why we can’t keep flying the shuttle.  I’m okay with saying goodbye.  I’m not okay with such a gap in human spaceflight launch capability due to political decisions.  We could have avoided this.  But, we didn’t.  Why? Because no one pays attention until it’s too late.

After the launch I followed some friends to partake in the tradition of beans and corn bread.  Along the way, we stopped to visit the Close Out Crew and found out one member’s last day after 33 years was launch day.  What a way to go out.  If you haven’t seen this video yet from the Close Out Crew, I hope you will take the 90 seconds to watch it.  I cried my eyes out.

If you’d like to experience the past few days through my eyes, I invite you to take a look at my pictures on Flickr:  DLSR pics, iPhone pics, and Boeing’s Commercial Crew CST-100 Tent.

And I invite you to share your thoughts about the shuttle’s last flight and our future.  Please keep in mind the rules of posting on this blog: I request that we keep this civil.  We will not attack any individuals, companies, or administrations.  We will look at facts, we will question plans, talk about the unknown, offer solutions, and dream about the future.

The End.

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2 responses to “The end of an era

  1. This is certainly about the *lack of continuity*, and I’m a little disappointed that some rather luminary individuals on Twitter — including Neil deGrasse Tyson — are attacking the strawman that what we’re unhappy about is *just* the decommissioning of STS.

    I am, perhaps, not quite as pessimistic as you about how long it will be before a Capcom sits down again in Firing Room 4 — anyone who thinks that all the parties with CAD software, let alone all the parties with computerized milling machines, are going to move *any slower* than is humanly possible to make that day happen is, in Adm Bolden’s words, “living on another planet somewhere”…

    But we have the ongoing problem that the very post of Administrator is an appointed post, and that NASA twists in the wind of politics… and that we aren’t trying to beat the Commies to the moon; we’re sharing vacuum-packed caviar with them on orbit.

    America has traditionally done *much* better when we have an Enemy, and all the public agrees on it. We haven’t had one, though, since the end of the Cold War, not a credible one anyway… and while China and India may make it *to* the moon before we make it *back*, that’s apparently not good enough either.

    I’m not sure what the solution is… but not letting Bob Jacobs buy time on broadcast television to advertise all the things NASA does is *certainly* not it.

  2. Well said Cindy, from the heart. Right now, this nation and much of the world is in a stumble phase. Hopefully we will catch ourselves and regain our balance. Ideally we should help catch each other (all nations) and mutually achieve a new balance. I see this as the surest way for humankind to return to exploring space. Can we do it? Yes we can. Will we do it? I am not sure right now. There is still too much enmity and too little compassion around the world. If we cannot change that ratio, then creative progress suffers.

    There must be a rise in the private sector, but there must be a NASA as the overall focus point. Right now there is a nix government attitude which simply is a political act to gain followers by making government the bad guy – somebody to blame. That must change before we can succeed nationally and, most importantly , succeed internationally.

    I join you in shouting praises for all who have worked in and around the Shuttle program. They have contributed to unforgettable progress and history. If we give up now, we in essence thumb our noses at all they have achieved. So somehow we need to move up and forward. First step could be to make our government ” of, by and for the people” again. Let’s all get started.