The Space Shuttle program was cleared for takeoff in the same year I surprised my parents and was born. I have a close attachment to the shuttles, having been an aerospace geek for most of my life. I was one of the many, many school children who witnessed the Challenger explosion. I spent years visiting the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. I fell in love with Space Race history. I joined the Civil Air Patrol. I did my science project in 10th grade on the emerging aerospace programs–many of which have been scuttled in the demise of NASA’s man-in-space program.
I have hard time with this new reality. It is probably a good thing, as robotics are cheaper and, at this time, more practical than deep space exploration expeditions. With the potential of privatization, perhaps more opportunities will, in fact, develop. Still, I miss it already. We could never afford to send me to Space Camp, and now I wonder what is left for that program. Does it still serve a purpose? (Yes, but it moves away from the potential of piloting and weightlessness to robotics.) My memories of the Kennedy Space Center are suddenly very precious to me.
So, leaving aside my sadness at the passing of an era and the twilight of many dreams, I asked my 13 year old daughter if she wanted to see it in person. We were already planning to attend the delivery and installation at the Air and Space annex, the Udvar-Hazy facility near Dulles Airport, but did she want to see its final flight? I was prepared to be answered in the negative, but she grasped that this was history unfolding before her eyes, and signed on to take the trip down to DC.
It had been my plan to watch the shuttle from Gravelly Point, VA, along the Mount Vernon bike trail. As the Shuttle Discovery was flown in on the back of NASA’s specially rigged 747 without an obstacle or bad weather to slow her, we were crawling along the Washington-Baltimore Parkway (295) in halting stages. The CBS radio news network kept updating us and our exit to get to 395 was jammed up just as reports were coming that the shuttle was approaching Capitol Hill and the National Mall. I aborted the mission to Gravelly Point and redirected us to the National Mall. Coming along Pennsylvania Avenue, SW, we saw the shuttle skim the tree tops in the distance. I struggled to restrain myself knowing that DC has added traffic cameras, but was rewarded by getting the kid to the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol with the camera while sought parking.
Once I parked, I scurried off to go find Xanthia and Discovery. I found both! The shuttle buzzed the Capitol 5 times! We were on the Hill for 4 of those! We were surrounded by fellow gawkers staring up, snapping pictures and filming Discovery, piggy-back-riding the 747, with a solitary F-16 Fighting Falcon in escort.
It was an incredibly rewarding experience. I embraced my child-like joy in the moment of watching shuttle fly over the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol. The excitement of the moment overwhelmed the disappointment of the program’s final flight.
Note: My daughter and I will be going to the Udvar-Hazy for the final installation and I will do a more in-depth blog on NASA’s Space Shuttle program at that time. (Maybe even a Vlog!) The better footage will also be featured then. Above is the cell phone footage I took as I rushed from my parking space alongside the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art to the reflecting pool–where I sincerely hoped no one decided to abduct my kid during the oohing and ahhing. Fortunately, Xan got some great footage of the shuttle and I will use that once I have edited it and posted it to YouTube.
April 19 is The Welcome Discovery Celebration.