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Author Topic:   STS-135 T+1 year: NASA's final shuttle mission
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 42988
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-09-2012 01:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
T+ 1 year and counting: NASA's final space shuttle mission — where are they now?

Sunday marked the one year anniversary since the launch of space shuttle Atlantis on the 135th and final mission of NASA's shuttle program. The last of NASA's reusable winged orbiters to fly in space, Atlantis spent the day inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida awaiting its final preparation as a museum exhibit.

Like Atlantis, the team that flew its final mission, STS-135, has moved over the past year into new roles and missions as well...


Posts: 111
From: Cullman, AL
Registered: Dec 2007

posted 07-09-2012 10:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Atlantis   Click Here to Email Atlantis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A personal retrospective I wrote on the subject Sunday morning:

This time last year, several of my colleagues and I were on a charter bus bound for Cocoa Beach, Florida to view the final launch of the space shuttle program. The night before had been a mix of playing games to pass the time and nervously checking the various space news outlets. They were giving a 70% chance of a "NO GO" and I could believe it from the photos I had seen of LC-39A soaked in rain that had been posted on that night.

Traveling down Highway 1A, I caught my first glimpse of the large rectangular bulk of the VAB, a building I had seen numerous times in various media. This time it was real, framed against the cloudy, yellow morning sky. The highway itself was flanked by hundreds of cars that were filled people with that had the same plan as ours; they were here to see a space shuttle.

Arriving in Cocoa Beach, the sky had started to clear and was humming with the sound of aircraft from Patrick Air Force Base that were patrolling the coastline for anypotential threats to the mission; the launch was still a "go." Most of the local restaurants were packed, so several of my friends and I headed to the Starbucks (an experience I don't really care to repeat, the hipster fumes were starting to get to me) that was attached to Ron Jon surf shop. Before leaving, I had told my mom and dad that I would say "hello" to Jeanie and Major Nelson for them. On the way to the beach, I passed by an RV with "I Dream of Space Coast Legends" in big letters on the side. For a second I thought I may have seen Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden sitting at the table in front of it, but I think I may have been mistaken.

The Atlantic coast's sand was a new experience for me, it was coarse, dark, and hard. Not at all like the fine, sugar-white Gulf Coast sand that I had grown up with. Also different from the Gulf was the rather oppressive humidity. However, I was finally on the Florida Space Coast, and about to do something that I had wanted to do my whole life.

While most of my group stayed on the beach, a few of us (myself inlcuded) made way for the long fishing pier nearby that would hopefully serve as a better vantage point. As Perka's handheld radio squaked away pre-launch audio, people (and one friendly pelican) began to line every possible patch of beach, pier, and hotel rooftop for a glimpse of the launch. It was absolutely incredible to see that many people gathered together for a single event.

At an almost interminible pace at first, the countdown began to progress quicker close to the T-1 minute mark. Suddenly at T-31, a voice came over the radio saying that there was an issue with gaseous oxygen vent arm ( what the "beanie cap" is attached to); the computers were saying that it had not retracted. I held breath for the next seconds, hanging on the launch controllers' every word. With the aid of closed circuit video cameras on the launch tower, the team in the Launch Control Center was able to verify that the GOX arm had indeed retracted and was latched in it's proper positon. Finally, the countdown resumed and yet I refused to exhale.

At T-10, everyone began to count alongside George Diller's ever-reassuring voice. At T-0, there was silence. Suddenly, an orange, blowtorch-like flame shot out from behind one of the condominiums to the north. Cheers erupted from miles around as Atlantis arced magestically into the cloud-laden sky. I followed her as long as I could until she disappeared into the cloud bank. Even after Atlantis had disappeared, her presence remained in the form of the sound from the engines, which I could feel pounding in my chest.

The restaurant on the pier had its TV's tuned to the CNN coverage of the launch and I watched until just right before the external tank separated. We had to be back to the bus, which was 8/10 mile away, in about 30 minutes so we were in a bit of a hurry to get gone. I don't think I exhaled until I was eating lunch at Subway later.

Only after the trip did it sink in that this would never happen again. For thirty years the shuttles had been flying, and I had been a witness to two thirds of that time. Up until that point, I had never known a time without the shuttle.

I remember walking into the gym at Huffman Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL after a Weather Merit Badge class. There was a TV set up, showing footage of what looked like a meteor streaking across the bight blue Texas sky. Then I read the caption at the bottom; Columbia had broken up on re-entry. I spent the rest of the day in stunned silence. After that, I made it point to follow the upcoming missions, as much as I could. When Columbia broke up, I had no idea we even had a bird up there.

Almost two and half years later, I was in grandpa's office, watching with rapt attention Discovery's triumphant return to space on his little portable TV. Unfortunately, due to foam shedding, the remaining fleet would be grounded for another year. However, STS-114 marked the first time that crew repaired their ship while in orbit, which overjoyed one of the girls I was in marching band with when I informed her that the operation had worked.

The next year, my family was in the middle of a major house renovation that we took a break from to watch to Discovery make another attempt at returning America to space. This time was a success, especially poignant that it was the Fourth of July. Sadly, 4 days later and 6 years ago today, my cousin was killed in a tragic ATV accident (he would be 17 this year), which was echoed recently by events surround the passing of STS-131 commander Alan Poindexter.

From the tragedy of the Columbia accident, to the trials and tribulations of Return to Flight, and triumphs of the ISS completion and the Hubble repair, and finally Atlantis' last hurrah, I'm glad I've had the chance to witness this chapter of spaceflight history.

Even though STS-135 landed in the dark on July 21, 2011, that darkness was just before dawn, hopefully symbolic of the new era that is even now starting to unfold.


Posts: 162
From: Athens, GA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 07-24-2012 12:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tfrielin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My last launch account from last year — we were there for the first launch in 1981 and were there for the last one, a year ago this month as guests of NASA:

After turning down our previous invitation to the penultimate launch, I was informed by the NASA History Office guy that we had been "recycled" for the last launch, but he warned that the guest list exceeded the slots available. So it was a pleasant surprise when three weeks before launch day we got the invite in the mail.

That was far too late to get a hotel room anywhere near KSC but fortunately we had already planned to go to the farm in Ocala to celebrate Barbara's Dad's 90th birthday so we hung out there afterwards, waiting for the launch. Mapquest informed me that if we took I-75 to the Florida Turnpike then on to State Road 528, it would take us two hours and twenty minutes to get to the Visitors' Center where we had to register and then board a bus to the viewing site. Ok, we're there, not a problem.

But the day before launch, the weather turned cloudy and rainy all over Central Florida. When we went to bed that night they were giving only a thirty percent chance of a launch and since the launch window was only ten minutes, we were pretty much resigned to missing our chance to see it, but we decided that we owed it to ourselves to at least drive over until they called it off.

So we're up at 4:30 and on the road by 6 a.m. and the skies were actually looking better the longer we drove with big patches of blue breaking up the cloud cover. Plus the predicted traffic didn't seem to be a problem — we zipped down 75, got on the FL Pkwy and paid all those damned tolls and passed the Orlando airport exit with no problem

But it was too good to be true. When we got on SR 528, things backed up and we crawled our way for the rest of the trip. We now know what a million person traffic jam looks like — saturation.

We knew the last bus left the Visitors' Center one hour before liftoff (leaving at 10:30 a.m.) so we started to get worried that we'd go all this way just to miss it. But we had no option but to limp along and keep our fingers crossed. The Mapquest two hour, plus trip was now over four hours.

When we finally got to the security checkpoint on the causeway we saw what was the last of the holdups — lots of people who didn't have permits to get on the KSC grounds were driving up to the checkpoint where they were challenged by the cops. The guy in front of us whipped out some official looking document to the cop who unfolded it and he then told the guy to pull out of the line into a parking lot where they shunted all the unauthorized people so they could turn them around. We then pulled up with our Official NASA Permit prominently displayed on the windshield and the cop actually said "thank you — have a nice day", waved us through and for a moment we felt like we might really be VIPs.

But the feeling was fleeting as it was now about 10:15 and the sign told us the Visitor Complex was six and a half miles away. So I floored it, we parked the car, grabbed camera and binoculars and hoofed to to the registration desk. When we got there they were already taking down the ropes and generally packing it up. But we got registered, got our bus pass and Visitors' pass and we were one of maybe the last of ten or twelve people who got loaded on to the last bus. Whew! Since there were extra spaces on that last bus NASA let employees take the empty seats — the lady sitting across from us said many people simply didn't make it as they were still caught up in that epic traffic jam. Needless to say,we were very lucky. Or that it was just fate that we were going to see that last launch no matter what.

Although the weather for the launch was still only a thirty percent chance the skies looked a lot better there at the launch site — even more patches of blue. Once we were on the bus to the viewing site for the first time I allowed myself to think that maybe we'd see Atlantis go after all.

The bus took us to the Saturn V Museum and the Banana Creek viewing site about three and a half to four miles away from Pad 39A — same site where we saw Discovery go three years previously. We disembarked and made it through the Gift Shop (a nice mercenary touch — they had you enter and exit through the gift shop) and since it was about T-minus twenty minutes, we just went out to the bleacher area. Naturally by this time it was already filled so we made our way down to near the spot where we saw Discovery go from the last time we were there.

After the stress and strain of the traffic jam it was a great feeling to be there especially since now we only had to endure fifteen minutes or so of the July Florida sun to see Atlantis go.

Back in 1981 and afterwards, I photographed the first and subsequent launches with my old trusty Pentax Spotmatic with that old 600mm Soligor lens. That antique equipment had long since bit the dust so recently I got an old Spotmatic on Ebay and a 135mm lens to go with it. Well, right before we left to go down to the launch I discovered that I couldn't get the battery compartment open to replace the old battery for the exposure meter. So I knew I'd just have to guess at the shutter speed and aperture setting. No big deal, as I just really wanted to see the launch, not so much to photograph it. There was a young lady standing next to me with her fancy damned digital camera so I asked her what her meter was reading for her film speed. She looked at me funny when I said "film" so I said just tell me what your camera is saying for your current ISO. She said ISO 320, Shutter 1/250th and aperture of f12. So armed with that information I guessed that a 1/250 sec shutter speed and an f 11 aperture would do the trick.

She then asked me where the shuttle would take off from so I pointed out Pad 39A in the distance — obviously this was her first launch. So I gave her my only sage advice — don't try to take too many pictures or you'll miss the launch — it goes fast and today it will disappear into that cloud cover and we we won't see SRB separation.

So now after the travails of us getting to here over I'm thinking we will see her go — thirty years ago we were here for STS-1 and now we close the circle with this last shuttle launch. The last T-9 minute hold passed, and we counted down for the last launch. We could hear the flight controllers on the PA speakers and they went around the horn for the last go-for-launch-status. It was all Go.

At about T-4 minutes we all sang the National Anthem led by a NASA employee and then the thousands of us focused on Pad 39A across the water and Florida scrub knowing we were Go for launch.

Then, just as we thought we were there, the launch team called that last thirty second hold — we couldn't hear exactly on the speakers but something didn't retract all the way, at least according to one of the launch controllers consoles. Except for a couple of crying babies, you could have heard a pin drop at that moment — everyone was silent.

But the PA said they would use a camera to verify the retraction (of the Beanie Cap as it turned out) and once that was verified they re-cycled the count and re-started. We all went wild.

I decided I wouldn't use the binoculars so just watched and listened for the go-for-main -engine-start call. The SSMEs lit off, sending up the huge plume of steam from underneath the pad, but even then I told myself this one was not a Go until I saw the SRBs ignite. From our vantage point the lauch tower blocked our line of sight for the shuttle stack where it sat on the pad but I could then see that intense yellow glow of the SRB ignition piercing through the launch tower and at last I knew Atlantis was on her way.

She cleared the tower and came into full view — a magnificent sight. We thought as some others also commented on she rose more slowly than other shuttles. This is where I snapped a couple of pictures — they seem a little blurred but they capture the moment and the 135mm lens re-creates the view we saw with the naked eye from that distance.

But what the film doesn't capture is the deep rich yellow/gold/orange of the SRB plumes — that was very beautiful and I think it may have been the prettiest launch of all I've seen.

Belatedly the sound hit us — not as intense at this site as I guess the business end of all that thrust was not directly pointed our way, but impressive nevertheless. She made her roll, arched out over the Atlantic and climbed into the cloud deck after about forty five seconds and disappeared. It was amazing.

So we did it — we were there in April 1981 for STS-1 and we were there for STS-135 thirty years later — closed the circle.

I was not sad to see the last shuttle go, even though on the way back on the bus we passed the VAB. There, parked on a pedestal was one of the Mobile Launcher Platforms and next to it was one of the Crawlers — both re-cycled from the Apollo days and I suppose this is where they will remain now that there are no more Saturns or shuttles to take out to Launch Complex 39A. Would they ever be started up again? Or just sit there to rust in the Florida salt air?

I could also see the empty space where Pad 39B had already been dismantled, only the lightning protection towers left to mark the spot.

Perhaps saddest of all was the launch tower that NASA built for the now canceled Ares launch vehicle that stood there at the VAB. I read on the web where some KSC employee said ruefully that he hoped his boss would let him climb to the top of it before it got turned into a very expensive artificial reef.

The shuttle had a good thirty year run and I'm okay with its retirement. What I'm not okay with is he unnecessary uncertainty that NASA and the U.S. manned spaceflight program now faces after the Administration canceled the Constellation Program last year. At least when Apollo/Saturn was closing down we had the shuttle already in development. Now all we have is uncertainty.

So we went back to get dropped off at the Visitor Complex both to get something to eat and let the traffic ease. We grabbed the last two Budweisers out of the drink case in the cafeteria — a first. I never had the pleasure of a cold Bud after a shuttle launch, particularly welcome on a hot July afternoon. A German accented man asked me where I got the beers, so I pointed, telling him that they were going fast. But I did not offer to share. He eventually found some, so I did not have to feel guilty.

Barbara decided to watch the IMAX Hubble 3D movie. But I decided just to walk the Visitor Center grounds knowing that probably there would never again be this many people there at any one time ever again and that if i ever see the place again, it will not be the same.

Ok, folks, that's it. In more ways than one.

(Enjoy photos of the launch, the exhaust piercing the cloud deck [Not attached here..])


Posts: 13
Registered: Apr 2012

posted 07-27-2012 03:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mgspacecadet   Click Here to Email mgspacecadet     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Former and current Kennedy Space Center employees gathered at the Shuttle Landing Facility on July 21, 2012, to commemorate the one year anniversary of the final landing of the Space Shuttle Program.

Orbiter Atlantis touched down on runway 15 at the Kennedy Space Center, for the final time, at approximately 6:00 am EDT, on July 21, 2011. Those present gathered at the nose wheel stop location for STS-135, the final Space Shuttle Mission.

In the photo below, from left to right are; Lou Marrero, Jim Bolton, Malcolm Glenn, Jeff Scheick, Butch Cabe, Joe Rodriguez, Angie Brewer (Atlantis Flow Director), Mike Chappell, Pat Lesley, Jerry Sheehan, Dan Johnson and Scott Thurston.

And here is a photo taken on July 21, 2011, on the runway, with Atlantis. Individuals in the photo, from left to right, are; Ray Propst, Mike Shivel, Al Jenkins, Pat Lesley, Butch Cabe, Jim Bolton, Scott Thurston, Beth Kline, Joe Rodriguez, Jeff Scheick, Greg Weber, Angie Brewer (Atlantis Flow Director), Mike Chappell, Dan Johnson, and Jerry Sheehan.

All times are CT (US)

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