Tag Archives: space shuttle

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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It’s more than a Space Shuttle

I am amazed.  Simply amazed that the U.S. Government thinks politics can be played when retiring the space shuttles and determining where they should be displayed.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s spaceflight – the first time man left the planet. April 12th also represents the 30th anniversary of the first space shuttle flight, the first of 133 missions with only two remaining in all of history.  And this is the day our government and the NASA Administer decided to shun the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX.

Known as the epicenter of human spaceflight since the early days of NASA, JSC is where the astronauts are trained for their shuttle missions.  It’s where each mission is planned years prior to flying, where the mission timeline is laid out to the last detail.  This is where people sacrifice time with their families to work night shifts during missions, adjusting every time a launch has slipped a day, a month, or 6 months. Houston is what makes it all possible.  It being the dream we all had at one point in our lives-to fly and do remarkable things in space.

For NASA to select NYC and for  three of the locations to be on the east coast to receive shuttles was a slap in the face to the thousands of employees at JSC who had dedicated their lives to the space program. Or so it feels.  I’m not saying there aren’t valid reasons for any of the four establishments to not have a shuttle, although I do have trouble understanding the historical significance NYC has played in the space shuttle program.

They say politics did not play a role. How can that be a true statement?  Ever since this administration came to office, JSC has seen their scope and purpose significantly reduced. A message has been sent to Houston from Washington D.C. and we know hear it loud and clear.  JSC has laid out the requirements for every manned vehicle since its inception and yet the commercial crew program office goes to KSC. A center that knows everything about launching vehicles safely but very little about designing a spacecraft + integrating that vehicle with the international space station.

(For a different perspective on the shuttle announcement see Wayne Hale’s Blog)

I fear for the future of human spaceflight in our country. I see bad choices continually being made and I have to come to terms that my dreams may not become a reality no matter how dedicated I am or how hard I work.  Last night many friends sent me a link to a shuttle tribute video made by KSC employees entitled “We all do what we can do.”   I cried through the whole thing. The shuttle program is ending and this country, supposedly the greatest country on Earth failed.  We failed to fund Constellation, we failed to select the appropriate design solution, and we (the people) failed to stand up and demand more from our government. Yes, we failed. Apparently failure is an option on Earth.

And guess what, we are still failing. Congress and the Administration are bickering like 5 year olds over the future of NASA and exploration of the cosmos.  Congress believes that anything is possible even when given small amounts of money to do technological breakthroughs.  NASA believes it can forge the future with the bureaucracy that comes with government.  Changes must be made.  Leaning out processes and procedures must occur.

Feel a vicious cycle?  I do. Will we ever leave low earth orbit? Not at this pace. Why is an evolvable heavy lift a bad idea? Because if you start with 70MT you’ll never see 130MT. It simply won’t get funded down the road. Look at the track record.

Do it. Do it big. Do it now. Else don’t complain later if we don’t leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Imagine what we could do if only the capability existed. The sooner the better. Let NASA build the launch vehicle and the crew exploration vehicle. But, want to test vehicles and structures on the moon? Maybe Industry will build them using their own requirements and processes.  And in a new partnership with NASA, they can be launched on the NASA heavy lift launch vehicle at no cost to industry. That is one way way how America can think outside the box.  There are a gazillion other ways.

Think big. Dream big. Do big.

Leave LEO.