Aug 282011
 

Wrote this a while ago and swear I published it, but here it is unpublished, but it deserves to be put up, so here it is.  🙂

 

In the last few months I have found myself learning more and more about NASA and the shuttle program down at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida. I lucked into a spot at the NASA STS134 Tweetup and was able to make it back for the second launch attempt as the first one was scrubbed for a couple weeks. I have re-found the enthusiasm for space exploration that I had as a child watching Space Camp, this was back when each launch was played in our classrooms, that is until the fateful day that Challenger exploded during launch.  I’m not sure I ever saw a launch live at school again.  It is sad that a tragedy such as that could stop us following NASA as closely.  Maybe it was because it was hard to explain to school children that the astronauts on that shuttle were dead and what that meant for us as a nation, those families, or the program itself.

 

Space is full of unknowns.  There have been deaths along the way.  There were two shuttle explosions, Challenger and later Columbia after their mission was completed that occurred during their re-entry.  There were deaths before that, almost at the very beginning of the United States space exploration, Apollo 1 caught fire during a Launch-pad test.  Apollo 1 showed the risks.  A cellphone that we carry in our pockets now has more technology in it then they had when the first manned spacecraft went into space.  If we could launch a man into space with that little bit of technology, what can we do now?

 

It has amazed me during the last few months how many people seemed to be relieved that the program was ending, stating that the cost was too much.  When informed how little NASA actually gets of the federal budget these people were surprised, they all seemed to think it was much, much more.  They also seemed surprised to learn what all NASA has given us technologically speaking.  They did not know it was NASA who gave us Velcro, Tevlon, Light-weight metal alloys that we use in bathrooms/kitchens/in vehicles, they didn’t know it was communications technology from NASA that helped make modern cellphones available and usable by the public, or the amount of medical research that is done in space.

 

Other people were unaware of the discontinuation of the shuttle program and shocked to learn about it.  They just assumed it was going as strong as ever.  Some don’t realize that the shuttle program was around for about 30 years now, that it could only ever go to low earth orbit.  I acknowledge that now that the international space station is build, our need of the shuttle is less.  They don’t need the large cargo bay to hall up parts to the station.  I do think we’d be better off keeping one shuttle in working order, just in case, until we have our next vehicle available for space travel.  (This point has been proved with the crash of the Russian vehicle into space…could ending our shuttle program bring about the ending of the ISS many years earlier then planned?)

 

Where is NASA going now?  Will there be further manned space flights from NASA, from the US?  I don’t know.  I sure hope so, and I hope that the American people realize the importance of that dream, of reaching for the stars!  The dream of being an astronaut is important for our children.  It keeps the imagination open and allows us the dream of going out into the universe, away from Earth to try to find other lifeforms.  It keeps the imaginations going and expands our technology.  It forces us to come up with better communication modes, of faster ways to travel, of ways to keep our astronauts healthy in an anti gravitational environment. The problems we have discovered from space travel have pushed us to keep motivated to change, to find better ways of doing things, and to grow as a people.  Who would have thought when the space shuttle program started back in the 1970s and 1980s that one of our closest allies in the 2000s would be Russia?  That they would be one of the key allies to get our astronauts into space now that we are ending our space shuttle program?

 

The dream is alive and we need to keep reaching for the stars.  We need to keep our children’s eyes looking up.  As tight as our budgets here on earth are, the jobs that are created by the NASA programs are invaluable to our future.  People just need to open their eyes, see what is there, and dream of touching it.

 

 

May 252011
 

Picture by Shelley Bernstein

 

I sit here over a week out from watching Endeavour soar towards the stars and still I can’t quite put the experience into words.  It went so fast, and maybe I should have started my cameras rolling just a little sooner, but it was almost like I blinked and the shuttle was gone!

 

 

May 16th started very early for me.  After just 3 hours of sleep we at the Mercury House 2 woke up about 1:30 to get ready.  We had a quick breakfast at the Waffle House in Cocoa Beach (although a couple in our group just watched the rest of us eat as they were appalled by the cleanliness of the restaurant) before heading to Kennedy Space Center.  We were told to be there before 4:30 so that we were at the press site before the road was shut down to allow the Astrovan to come through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent the wee hours setting up my cameras and taking pre-dawn pictures of the shuttle across the way.  I found myself still in awe of being at the media site.  I looked at the time and went racing towards the access road in time to see the Astrovan drive past us in front of the VAB about 5:11 am.  In the pre-dawn it was amazing because the lights were on in the Astrovan and we could see the astronauts waving at us from the windows and door of the van as it stopped to let a few people off (right in front of us instead of pulling into the VAB like it did before the scrub 2 weeks earlier).

 

 

They didn’t turn around this time, and kept going.  The rest of the morning was a little tense as there were several things that could go wrong, that could cause the launch to be postponed again and I guess a part of me thought maybe it wouldn’t go up again.  As the time got closer and closer I was ready, but yet at the same time in denial that the time had come, but through all that I have video and pictures of Endeavour rising up off the ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My video says what I can say in words the best…, “Awesome”  “Wow!”  “Unbelievable”.  Really there are no words to describe what you feel when you see the smoke start to flower out from the base of the launch pad, then the flames explode and push the shuttle off the ground, brighter then the sun…smoke flowering out even more, and then it rises up towards the sky (and in our case the clouds) and you see it disappear almost before the sound, a series of explosions and pops, hit you.  When the sound finally hit us all went silent…no voices were heard again until the sounds faded into the early morning light.  If one watched the clouds, the shadow of the shuttle could be witnessed curving off to the left.  We just stood there and stared, all in awe that we just watched 7 human beings blast off to space, a place each of us would secretly love to spend even a few hours.

 

STS-134 Launch of Endeavour (Click here to watch my video on YouTube).

 

And that was the last launch of Endeavour.  On the horizon is only one more shuttle launch, an added on flight of Atlantis.  STS-135 is currently scheduled for July 8, 2011…the last shuttle to leave the U.S.  What comes next?  NASA is working on the next manned space craft, but it will be several years, some estimate at least 5 years before that will be available.  There are many who I have talked to who were unaware that this was the end our shuttle program.  We all dream of being astronauts, we all applaud NASA for what they do, but for some reason the funding NASA needs to continue is reluctantly given.  Why?  Why is the U.S. so reluctant to fund an organization that has improved all of our lives.  So many things have come from NASA, technologies and medical research have all been advanced because of our aeronautics programs.  It can’t end!  We have so much further we can take things and I hope that people realize just how important these dreams are to us all.

 

 

In the end the NASA Tweetup was about new friends and about celebrating NASA’s launches into Outer Space.  Didn’t we all dream at one point or another of having such an opportunity.  I love NASA’s motto: “Failure is Not an Option” and we need to remember that.  There are some who want to discontinue the NASA programs, and they would be wrong.  We need NASA to keep reaching for the stars and I hope that we never forget that dream.  Didn’t we all want to be a part of Star Wars or Star Trek…to travel from world to world, planet to planet, and universe to universe?  That is the dream that NASA is trying to reach for us.

Picture By Rachel Donner

May 152011
 

So today I had the opportunity of a life time!  I, along with the other Tweeps who were able to come back to Kennedy Space Shuttle, had the chance to watch the retraction of the RSS.  What does that mean?  It means we watched as the scaffolding that protects Endeavour (in this case) from the weather, and allows easy access for personnel to perform repairs and access the shuttle easily once it is moved to the Launch Pad (in this case Launch Pad 39A).  We got to stand about 600 meters away from the shuttle as it was slowly revealed.  We could see the movement better then the media, but they got to see a straight on view…but our bus paused on the way out to allow us the chance to photograph that view.

 

All I can say is WOW!  It was just amazing to be that close to the shuttle.  I couldn’t get tired of the view, we got to stand there about 2 hours and savor the opportunity.  I hope the everyone enjoys the photos that I am honored to share with you!  See my Flickr Site for all the photos I shared from today.