I didn’t have a special view of Atlantis’ final launch today -it was from Cocoa, and hindered by haze and a deck of clouds. But it still had that import of history, and a tear came to my eye when I heard shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach wish the crew well as he bid farewell to the shuttles. The mission is still ahead, but Kennedy Space Center has launched its last orbiter. The crowds came out by the thousands to wish it well – and now a lot of them are driving home.
I can’t grasp that the shuttle program is actually ending, even though we’ve all known it’s been coming for a long time. Atlantis is due to launch this morning, though weather is likely to be an issue. And then it will come home, if all goes well, for a permanent berth at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
I covered space for four years and was completely immersed in the shuttle program. I haven’t retained the level of detail I knew then, but it was a huge part of my life. I was awed by it, then dismayed after the heartbreaking Columbia accident, but always impressed by this technological colossus and the people who put it together. They’re the ones who have made history.
I’ve put together a tribute to the shuttle – a gallery of some of my favorite images. It’s not complete yet; I still have to upload all the high-res files and write detailed captions. But it helps me share that sense of wonder I still have when one of those shuttles aims for the stars. See the gallery