NASA; KENNEDY SPACE CENTER AND SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS WELCOME YOU LITERALLY, WITH OPEN ARMS…….
Photo By: John Raoux / AP (links and a video below).
The now retired OV-104 Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center officially opened today Saturday July 29, 2013. She as well as the entire facility looks simply incredible. Named after the 2 mast primary science/research vessel from 1930-1966 by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts; Atlantis conducted 33 missions over 25 years. She traveled 125,935,796 miles (203 million km) in space, orbiting an astonishing 4848 times while on orbit for just shy of 307 days while carrying 207 crew members into orbit, to the Hubble Space Telescope once in 2009 as part of SM4, Mir 7 times and the ISS 12 times. She touched down on July 21, 2011 completing STS-135 and closing the book on the era of the Space Shuttle.
All of us space nuts have favorite vehicles, people, moments, stories etc. and I’m certainly no different…..Here’s my Atlantis story.
Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-132 was the only Space Shuttle launch I ever witnessed live. Leading up to launch which was scheduled for May 14, 2010 I had my tickets for the causeway launch in hand, vacation scheduled and despite the previous few launches being delayed months off their original launch dates, I was hoping for a small miracle as I only had a small amount of vacation time to use. Unbelievably, that very week before flying down I tore my right calf (80% rupture) and was told stay off it for 6 weeks or I may need surgery. Well I certainly had no intention on missing what at the time was the 3rd to last launch. I always wanted to see a Shuttle fly since I was a kid and the clock was ticking. I dragged myself around on crutches for two days pondering what I wanted to do when finally I said to myself “I love this so much, I’ve wanted this for too long, I’m not going the rest of my life wishing I had seen a Shuttle fly.” my decision was made. Then, amazingly the night before we were supposed to leave believe it or not, the furnace in our house went! I was so furious that the very week I was to go live out a dream (as long as it goes up on time) all these things decided to conspire against me….so I just placed the world on hold….the furnace is dead, it will still be dead when I get back and it will have to wait. So despite barely being able to walk, I even left the crutches home and for 2 days in Florida pre-launch, with my torn and swollen calf dragging behind me and a $7000+ repair waiting for me at home I just sucked it up. At this point I would have bet anything that the launch would delay so that I would inevitably miss it. But you know what, the day was perfect, the countdown was flawless and with every built in hold came a flawless continuation until finally, the clock and loud speakers entered into the final 10 second countdown…..then white smoke filled the launch pad 7 miles away and after what seemed like minutes that beautiful machine with its thousand foot long tail of unbelievably bright fire emerged from the smoke, seconds later that sound I had always dreamed of vibrated in my chest and ears, then within minutes, it was gone leaving only residual sound, applause and the vast smoke trail casting its shadow across the sky as it was now being distorted by the Florida breeze. Suddenly I realized that I could care less about a furnace, I’ll get a new one…..I couldn’t feel the pain in my leg as I sat there and I thought to myself that I had made the right decision, no question about it. Even today, the bill is paid, my leg is 100% and I can tell you without question that I would have been heartbroken to this day had I allowed that week to cancel plans that I had carried with me since I was a child…….That’s MY Atlantis story.
My dream now is to once again see humans launch from Cape Canaveral as well as a personal dream that I have to travel out to Cape Canaveral, Space Launch Complex-31(B); the silo where the remains of Space Shuttle Challenger lay entombed. Being from NH and remembering clearly the months and weeks leading up to that sad day, that location would be a privilege to walk on.
NASA Kennedy Space Center, Atlantis homepage: http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/the-experience/atlantis-shuttle-experience.aspx
NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis official unveiling on Saturday, June 29, 2013: