This is a collection of photos and notes I took before, during and after the flight of Atlantis, designated STS135, the final mission of the Space Shuttle Program. As it was for thousands of other people, I experienced the final launch of the Space Shuttle Program as bittersweet. Although I’ve been one of the strongest proponents of the private sector moving into and then taking over Low Earth Orbit operations, it would be fair to say I’ve had very mixed feelings about the implementation of that shift in policy.
However, this week was about the launch, and about honoring all who have moved working, living and exploring space forward by the leaps and bounds it has seen during the space shuttle era. The crews and mission controllers, the pad technicians and mission planners, the trainers and trajectory gurus, the engineers and payloads developers, the flight directors and scientists – and above all, the 14 astronauts who gave their lives – all of them have done extraordinary service to this country, and to humankind, and during the course of the final flight of Atlantis, the nation saluted them. There can never be enough of that, in my opinion.
My “journey” for the launch was much like many others I’ve taken for other launches. At the same time, it was the very last opportunity I would ever have to witness the fiery ascent of the Space Shuttle. Like everyone else I don’t know when I’ll be there again for the next launch of humans into space. I have high hopes. But for now they are just that – hopes. So the trip was different from any other. In any case, I’ve never shared any of my photos or thoughts about launches before. Nothing particularly profound here – it’s just now or never. So here are a few photos and notes from the two weeks just prior to, during, and after STS135.
This first shot was taken during light rain from the “crawler road” – the path taken by the huge crawler that has been ferrying launch vehicles back and forth from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) since the days of Apollo. It shows Atlantis on Pad 39A with hints of blue sky here and there.
A better shot, straight on. The crew escape system line is quite visible, extending from halfway up the tower to the ground. In the case of a pad abort, the crew would egress the vehicle into a wire basket that traverses down that line at high speed. Fortunately, that’s only been done in training.
This last one is from quite close up. Taken just a few minutes after the one above, a fine mist had moved in. It’s from just outside the fence at the pad; no one but launch personnel and crew are allowed inside the fence at L-1 days.
I’m fortunate that one of my close friends is Sandy Magnus (follow her on Twitter as @Astro_Sandy). Sandy and I first met each other when her astronaut class – “the Sardines”, so named because there were so durn many of them (44) – entered the training flow as “AsCans” (Astronaut Candidates) in the late 90′s. These next photos are from a very special event, where the crew emerge from crew quarters the day before the launch. They are in quarantine so no one but family are allowed in immediate proximity – the rest of us are “behind the ropes” – but it does give a great opportunity to talk and get the latest intel on how things are going – and most importantly, to share support and love for the crew, for friends, and for family.
Here’s Sandy, talking with a grade school class she had invited to the event. She’s deeply committed to education and has been personally engaged with many schools over the years.
She’s got her “Tank Girl” hat on. More about that later.
Here Sandy is “directing” her brother in getting photographs of all of us, for her.
Finally, a couple of good shots of the crew with family – Fergie, Doug, and Rex with spouses and Sandy with her Mom – if you follow me on Twitter you know her as “AstroMom” – my nickname for the formidable woman also known as “Hurricane Rosie” – Rose Hall.
Chris Ferguson looked like he’d gotten some bad sushi in the first shot, but in the last two he’s all smiles!
(To be continued)