The Space Age: Shuttles and Stations


When the average American thinks about space, both the space shuttle and the space station usually come to mind. Two milestones related to both of these achievements are being celebrated this week!

I was lucky enough to see Atlantis take off last year, and now it is taking on its final journey - a 10 mile trek from the Vehicle Assembly Building (where shuttles hang out)  to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) visitor center. This will definitely be the easiest of the shuttle retirement trips, but it is still a task that requires intense expertise and planning. C

The International Space Station also celebrates a milestone - 12 years ago, the first crew began living on the station!  Check out the crew of Expedition 1 below, consisting of USA Commander Bill Shepherd and Russian Flight Engineers Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko. The ISS has served as a beacon of international cooperation, especially between the former Cold War adversaries.  They've worked together to provide wonderful images like this one provided by my Google+ buddy Erica Joy, 

Launch Drunk: Final Thoughts on the Shuttle Program

(For more photos, click for my albums from pre-launch and Launch day)

I've been in a state of writer's block ever since I saw Atlantis break away for the clouds on Friday morning. Sure, I've been updating Twitter and Google+ like a madman, but I needed some time to write a long form blog post. As a fellow NASA Tweetup attendee taught me, I was "launch drunk!"

Now that I've some rest, I can better reflect on the impact that NASA and the shuttle program has had on my life.

My earliest memory is the aftermath of the Challenger incident. As a six year old, I couldn't put this into the proper historical perspective. However, there was a huge push for space and technology news within my school as well as my favorite media of the time - Highlights for Children and 3-2-1 Contact. I manned my own personal missions with my toy spacecraft, hoping that my impromptu Lego modular design would help against the inevitable alien encounter.

As a preteen, I took an astronomy class at the local community college, where we learned about planetary orbits, plotted constellations, and, of course, talked about the space shuttle. We even took a trip to the National Air and Space museum in DC, which was one of the first times I had been to a museum outside of the New York metro area. As a sign of the times, I also remember the bus stopping at a Dairy Queen on the way back, and playing the Simpsons arcade game with tree other friends as long as we could.

In a few years, I began to read the paper and watch the news on a daily basis. I always made sure to tune in for shuttle launches. There was no NASA TV or YouTube - the only way to experience NASA missions was to tune in live or for a recap. I always felt butterflies watching the coverage.

I felt those same butterflies during my first live launch last Friday, the last one ever.

NASA has big things on the horizon - continued research on the International Space Station, getting humans to Mars, and exploring asteroids - and my hope is that future generations are inspired by this work. I know I was.