|What once was|
Merritt Island, FL
This photo originally shared on Instagram
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
10 years after Shuttle
Her flight marked the end of the 30-year shuttle program, and the beginning of a nine-year drought before American astronauts would once again reach orbit aboard an American vehicle.
We caught up with her 18 months ago at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and I came [this] close to never wanting to leave the place.
There were so many reasons why the shuttle program had to end - its glaring safety issues and enormous cost prime among them - but standing in the hushed hall where she now rests, it was easy to see why these vehicles were such wonders of their time, and why so many of the technologies we take for granted today can trace their roots to this miraculous-yet-star-crossed program.
We'll never again witness the sheer spectacle of a shuttle launch, or the bonkers experience of a dead stick return to the Shuttle Landing Facility.
But just a few miles away from where I took this shot, next-generation rockets now launch people to the heavens. And some of them return safely to landing pads nearby, putting on their own kind of bonkers display in the process. Eventually, new winged craft will glide to landings on the SLF. Meanwhile, entirely new megarockets like NASA's Space Launch System and SpaceX's Super Heavy/Starship take their first tentative steps toward destinations Atlantis could have only dreamed of.
I remember the words of launch commentator George Diller when Atlantis launched for the final time: "...on the shoulders of the space shuttle, America will continue the dream."
It's taken a few years of dreaming, but we now reap the rewards of everything the shuttles and the thousands of dedicated people who flew and cared for them planted all those years ago.
Because some dreams take longer to come true than others. But the wait is always worth it.
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Space Math: Gagarin+60+Columbia+40, April 12, 2021
Gear down and locked, March 26, 2021
Remembering Columbia - 21 years later, February 1, 2021
Staring at the belly of the beast, January 2, 2021
Atlantis in the abstract, October 31, 2020
Crew-1 takes flight, November 15, 2020
Staring Atlantis in the nose, August 23, 2020
Watching rockets fly from afar, May 26, 2020
Looking at rockets across the water, March 1, 2020
Where Atlantis feels the heat, February 27, 2020
Old orbiter. New code. February 16, 2020
Looking through Columbia's windows, February 1, 2020
Saying thanks to the Challenger crew, January 29, 2020
Rocket science, up close, January 27, 2020
Face-to-face with Space Shuttle Atlantis, January 10, 2020
The Shuttle Era ends, July 21, 2011
Atlantis comes down for good, July 20, 2020
Shuttle era + 25, April 2006
10 Years Ago: STS-135, the Space Shuttle’s Grand Finale, July 8. 2021
STS-135: The Final Voyage, July 27. 2011