Before I watched the Atlantis lift off on Friday, the last time I saw a Space Shuttle launch live as it happened was on a TV cart wheeled in to the classroom when I was in the fifth grade. It wasn’t a common happening – this was a special event… after all, there was a teacher going into space; I don’t think I have have to tell you what happened next…
While I retained a fascination with the space program, there were no more live launches broadcast at school, and as I grew older, the launches just became something that I was peripherally aware of.
More accurately, it was what they did on those missions that caught my attention: launching the Hubble Space Telescope, helping build the International Space Station, repairing the Hubble, cool things happening in Spacelab, and the like.
What was great about the Shuttle was that it gave the United States an uncontested edge over everybody else. Sure, other countries may be able to compete in technology, education and industry, but if you wanted to get into space, you either went to the U.S. or rolled the dice and shot it up on a Russian rocket. Now, though, that little edge is gone. Now, if we want to do something on the ISS, we’re hitching a ride on a Soyuz capsule. Call me nationalistic, but that kinda depresses me a little.
So it was with a slight air of melancholy that I watched the liftoff on Friday. It wasn’t a perfect launch—there was a brief delay about 30 seconds before liftoff when a sensor wasn’t reporting back whether or not a vent tube had cleared the pad—but once the countdown hit zero, all seemed to go according to plan. I’m sure our friends over at The Last Shuttle Project got some fantastic shots.
Atlantis will be up in the sky until July 20th, and I admit I’ll be following this one a little closer than I may have followed the other ones. Heck, I’ve already downloaded an iOS app that tracks the Shuttle on the off chance that I can catch a glimpse of the sun reflecting off of it as it flies overhead.
And on the 20th, when the wheels hit the tarmac and all is said and done, the Space Shuttle program will be over.
Then, all we get to do is reminisce as we wait for its replacement.