The Next Big Thing (blog hop) January 28, 2013Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Books, Science Writing, Space Shuttle
Poet Kristin LaTour tagged us for The Next Big Thing that’s going around the blogosphere. Here, we take on the ten questions that series poses.
What is your working title of your book?
We were born into the Apollo era, and Doug’s earliest memory is of watching the Moon landing. We came of age in the shadow of the space shuttle. As we followed the end of the shuttle program over the last couple of years, we realized that there’s a big swath—those born between the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the first shuttle launch in 1981—that is Generation Space. When Neil Armstrong died last year, this space generation became the adults of this world.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
We started writing together in 2004, when we presented a paper about how aviation museums represented World War II. We sent in an abstract because we wanted to visit Amsterdam together, but after the conference, we published an essay version of our paper in an edited collection and kept writing together.
In 2008, we moved to Southern California for new jobs. As we packed our belongings, we started talking about how this move might be an opportunity for us because this area has a long tradition in aviation. We started Lofty Ambitions blog in 2010, in part to write about the aviation and spaceflight history that surrounded us. Generation Space is a natural outcome of our years together.
What genre does your book fall under?
Generation Space is part science writing, part cultural commentary, part memoir. Some might call it literary journalism.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
When we started following the end of the space shuttle program in the fall of 2010, we didn’t expect to meet actors. But it turns out that a lot of Americans from all walks of life are interested in space exploration. Seth Green of The Family Guy was at a #NASAtweetup for a shuttle launch, and we met Luke Wilson last time we were at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). We sat behind June Lockhart of Lost in Space at the title transfer of Endeavour here in California and saw Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek there too. And we’ve seen celebs of other sorts at KSC, like Anderson Cooper, John Oliver, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
As for who would play us, that’s hard to imagine. Maybe Stana Katic and Nathan Fillion, who currently star together in Castle. The two characters have different styles but work well together, collaborating on crime solving and, to a certain extent, novel writing. Katic has dark hair and pale skin like Anna, and we have a friend who’s met Katic’s brother. Of course, Fillion knows how to do space from Firefly and Serenity, and we’ve been watching him since Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Maybe our book could even be adapted for an episode of Castle, with someone attacked by one of the alligators that lives in the ditch near the launch pad at KSC—only, Richard Castle knows it’s murder.
Mostly, if we somehow get a movie deal for Generation Space, we probably won’t care who plays us, though Doug would veto Michael Chiklis.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Star Trek‘s Enterprise set out on a five-year mission to boldly go where no man has gone before, but NASA has gone boldly for fifty years and counting—Generation Space figures out what that means for us as a spacefaring nation and for our future.
Okay, we used a dash to get two sentences.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
We’re represented by Alice Tasman at Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. We wrote about landing an agent here at Lofty Ambitions. Since then, with Alice’s suggestions in mind, we’ve revised our book proposal.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
We’ll let you know when we’re finished. We started drafting in earnest about a year ago at a two-week residency at Ragdale, and we have roughly half the book in really good shape and the rest mapped out.
Of course, we researched and wrote blog posts over two years, before we started drafting as a book. While we can’t merely cut and paste blog posts, a blog-to-book project means that we generated a lot of ideas and material that we can now use as we draft chapters. We’ve reorganized our thinking to form a table of contents that makes sense for Generation Space, and we’re distilling and expanding from blog posts to form chapter outlines. We end up re-drafting, then we revise and revise and revise.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
In some ways, our book works like Kristen Iversen’s Full Body Burden. She tackles nuclear weapons manufacturing, so the topic is different. But, like Iverson, we’re covering a blend of science and history and including personal experience. Another book with that sort of balance is Sandra Beasley’s Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl!, which is a personal and scientific investigation of allergies, or Tom Zoellner’s Uranium, which investigates all things—discovery, mining, uses, misuses—uranium. In all these science books, the author becomes part of the story, a vehicle for understanding the topic. And all three of these authors have contributed guest posts to Lofty Ambitions.
In other ways, our book is immersion journalism, a project book like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Alain de Botton’s A Week at the Airport, or Tracy Kidder‘s The Soul of a New Machine. We immerse ourselves in a place we’ve never been before, and we learn—through failure and success—how to be insiders in a particular time and place to understand an aspect of our culture and ourselves. There’s an arc to our story and to the story of U.S. space exploration that we couldn’t convey solely through blog posts.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The trigger for following the end of the space shuttle and, ultimately, for writing Generation Space was driving out to the desert—to Edwards Air Force Base—on Thanksgiving weekend in 2008 to see Endeavour land.
By that point, the shuttle program as set to end within a few years, so we started wondering what that meant for us as individuals who grew up with American manned spaceflight as a given and for the country. Within two years, we went to KSC to see a launch. And we kept going and going.
Serendipity played a huge role in keeping us focused on this project. Through one colleague, we met Roger Boisjoly, a whistleblower in the Challenger accident (today—January 28—is the anniversary), and his papers are now archived at our university. Through another colleague, we attended an event celebrating the Ilan Ramon Day School; Ramon died in the Columbia accident, and we saw his wife speak and met astronaut Garrett Reisman, who is now at SpaceX. During our residency at Ragdale, we discovered that Lovell’s Restaurant—as in Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell—was nearby so we ate a delicious meal in the midst of space artifacts. Our friend Leslie Pietrzyk recently sent Albert Goldbarth’s poetry chapbook The End of Space to Anna. Hardly a week goes by when we don’t stumble across something connected to Generation Space. Serendipity is ongoing inspiration.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Most books about the space shuttle are really technical and demand a lot of the lay reader or are heavily photographic, without much information or narrative into which you can sink your reading teeth. We’re writing for for strollers as well as for studiers. A reader will learn a lot but find the story accessible. We have a story to tell.
Also, we’re writing in the voice that we developed for Lofty Ambitions. We write as a couple, though it’s clear when a particular experience is Anna’s or something happened specifically to Doug. We don’t know of any other book co-written by a poet and a science librarian; we have fun writing together, and the collaborative voice comes naturally to us now.
So that’s our take on The Next Big Thing. Keep reading—we’ve tagged the following writers for next week’s round of The Next Big Thing. Click on each name to continue reading The Next Big Thing next week!
Serendipity and Generation Space December 19, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Writing.
Tags: Apollo, Serendipity, Space Shuttle
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There are a lot of us who are part of Generation Space: every American born from the end of the 1950s, when Sputnik was launched by the Russians and NASA was founded in the United States, to the early 1980s, when the space shuttle program got off the ground. But we aren’t always aware of how broadly and deeply growing up with Apollo and Shuttle has influenced our lives.
Sometimes, though, we are reminded unexpectedly. That’s serendipity:
“[S]erendipity is not just about embracing random encounters for the sheer exhilaration of it. Serendipity is built out of happy accidents, to be sure, but what makes them happy is the fact that the discovery you’ve made is meaningful to you. It completes a hunch, or opens up a door in the adjacent possible that you had overlooked. […] Serendipity needs unlikely collisions and discoveries, but it also needs something to anchor those discoveries.” –Steven Johnson, Where Good Ideas Come From
When Anna started reading Carole Radziwill’s book What Remains, she had no reason to think the space shuttle would be mentioned. The book is a memoir about falling in love with her husband, Anthony, who was John Kennedy’s cousin. Three weeks after Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette, who was Radziwill’s close friend, died in a plane crash, Anthony died from cancer. The book is about love and loss, not about technology and history. But Radziwill is roughly our age; she’s part of Generation Space.
So, on page 61, Radziwill explains why she became a journalist:
“Before I was a wife or a widow, I was a journalist, and that started in Annette Kriener’s office at ABC, on Sixty-Seventh and Columbus. Really it started ten months before on an ordinary January morning, watching TV in my parents’ kitchen. The space shuttle Challenger exploded, and an entire life occurred to me. From a thirteen-inch black-and-white television I saw a completely different world develop, beyond Suffern [where I’d grown up]. I watched the coverage and became absorbed with the network news anchors, and I made up my mind. As far-fetched as it seemed, I wanted to be there. I wanted to tell the story, not watch it.”
Radziwill, like us, was a college student on January 28, 1986. The space shuttle program changed the trajectory of her life.
As Anna was reading What Remains, we were also catching up with Season 5 of The Big Bang Theory. The male main characters in this series are the nerdiest of nerds and work at CalTech, though arguably, Howard Wolowitz—the engineer of the bunch—works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which counts among its successes Curiosity, the rover now perusing the surface of Mars. So The Big Bang Theory has an awareness of Generation Space, even though that’s a term we’ve coined.
Three of the main characters are played by Generation Space actors. Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard Hofstadter, who was born in Belgium in 1975, but grew up in Chicago in the 70s and 80s, meaning we were all Illinoisans then and making him six years old when the space shuttle began and ten years old when Challenger exploded in 1986. Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon Cooper, was born in 1973, making him eight years old when the space shuttle first launched in 1981. Simon Helberg, who plays Howard Wolowitz, was born the year before STS-1.
Still, when the series began in 2007, there existed no reason to expect Howard Wolowitz to fly as a payload specialist on a mission to the International Space Station. But there was Howard, strapped into the roomiest Soyuz capsule we’ve ever seen, in an episode that first aired on May 12, 2012, almost a year after the space shuttle program ended. What really surprised us, though, was that the other American astronaut on the mission was Mike Massimino, someone we’ve met and interviewed. (Massimino was born in 1962, so he’s Generation Space, too.) As the rocket launches, Massimino yells, “I love this part!”
At the end of the episode, Sheldon, who is watching the launch on television back home in Pasadena with rest of the gang, says, “Boldy go, Howard Wolowitz.” Sheldon’s wish is the wish of Generation Space, who grew up with Star Trek’s Enterprise and its five-year mission “to boldy go where no man has gone before.”
In these moments of exhilaration, happy accidents become anchored.
The End of the End (Part 7) November 21, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Apollo, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle, The End of the End
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This week, our “Celebrate the Journey” DVDs arrived from Kennedy Space Center. We are such space nerds that we requested NASA’s video documentation of the journey of the orbiter Atlantis from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the Visitor Complex. As of this week, Atlantis is enshrouded in thick, white plastic to protect it as construction workers finish the building around the orbiter.
We wrote about the first half of that November 2 journey in Part 4 of this series, and we’ve posted photos in Part 3 and Part 6. It’s time that we revealed the rest of the story of Atlantis’s transfer.
After the bigwigs signed the paperwork, with Atlantis parked behind them and a high school marching band and color guard joining in the pomp, the media—that’s us—boarded buses to the orbiter’s next stop: a community barbeque.
Exploration Park was brimming with families. The food stands—the ones with caffeine—were a welcome sight for us. The Kennedy Space Center public affairs representatives handed us off to the Visitor Complex public affairs representatives, and we were free to wander around as everyone waited for Atlantis.
With novelist and Lofty Ambitions guest blogger Margaret Lazarus Dean, we circled the silver Astrovan on display. NASA no longer had a need for the Astrovan, which used to transport astronauts to the launch pad, so here it was for us to see up close. We each meandered to check out the booths. The corporate newcomers to spaceflight were there. SpaceX displayed a mock-up of their Dragon capsule, Sierra Nevada showed a little Dream Chaser that’s more reminiscent of the shuttle, and XCOR was there with its own winged spacecraft, the Lynx.
All the while, speakers regaled the crowd with pep talks and stories. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and KSC Director Bob Cabana joined each other on stage, repeating some of what they’d said earlier in the day during the sign-over ceremony. They also shared something we didn’t know: they had both served in the Marines, their sons served in the Marines, and their sons had actually served together at some point. We’d never seen these two men more relaxed than during their friendly banter with a crowd of shuttle workers and their families.
Before long, the orbiter’s tail was in sight, rising above the tree line like a shark’s fin breaking the surface of the ocean. People gathered on the sides of the road, as security walked up and down to wave people back behind the sidewalk. Slowly, Atlantis rounded a bend and emerged. At a turn, right in the middle of this community barbeque, the orbiter, mounted on its transporter, stopped. The crowd swarmed the vehicle.
We stood under a wing. We walked around to stand under the orbiter’s nose. A Visitor Complex media representative indicated that this was the closest that the public had ever been allowed to get to a space shuttle. Adults pointed to different parts. Kids wriggled with excitement. And NASA let us all hang out with Atlantis for a good, long time.
When we were relatively sated, we headed to our next bus. We hadn’t eaten much, it was getting warm, and we could spend a few hours wandering around the Visitor Complex before the next official press event. The café was busier than we’d ever seen it, and the French fries were hot, salty, and delicious. The rocket garden had a nice breeze. And there were special exhibits set up for the day. That’s where we tried on spacesuit gloves and met a man who trained shuttle astronauts for Extra Vehicular Activity, or spacewalks. On the Space Coast, we’re used to staying busy even during what might look to be downtime.
The day was proceeding according to schedule, and next up was Atlantis traversing the last leg. We gathered by the ditch between the Visitor Complex and the road we’d driven to KSC many times. This was our hurry-up-and-wait stage, something by now familiar to our journalist selves. Finally, Atlantis rounded the last corner and headed our way.
Thirty astronauts—Apollo veterans as well as shuttle astronauts—led the space shuttle. Each was acknowledged by name as the group made the long pass in front of the large crowd of cheering onlookers. From Apollo, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke—though not necessarily in that order. From Shuttle, Fred Gregory, Kathy Thornton—astronauts we had interviewed before. Mary Cleave, Eileen Collins, Mark Lee, Norm Thagard—astronauts we would meet the next day. This group of former space-travelers led Atlantis all the way around the corner to the door of the orbiter’s new home.
The media scurried over to greet the orbiter and the astronauts there in the construction zone. The group gathered loosely in front of the orbiter for a photo op. Then, we all mingled for a few minutes. Some journalists pressed for interviews, and some of the astronauts headed into the gaping building and out of view. Anna introduced herself to Eileen Collins before all the astronauts made their way to their lodgings.
We waited for dusk. A few bright lights illuminated the orbiter. Finally, it was dark. The fireworks began bursting in air behind Atlantis. Pops and bangs. Green sparkles and silver steaks. Red, white, and blue, of course. A late burst in the dark, after we turned to leave. We were spent.
We caught a bus back to the News Center to retrieve our car. Margaret had already contacted Omar Izquierdo, her KSC insider friend and one of our Lofty Ambitions guest bloggers. We all met at El Leoncito in Titusville. We ate our fill of good Mexican food. We toasted to the events of the day.
Omar told us that folks at KSC had taken to say, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” That’s what a shuttle worker had said over the microphone at the beginning of the day, when Atlantis was emerging from the Vehicle Assembly Building in the pre-dawn darkness and chill. Omar and Margaret agreed that folks shouldn’t be smiling about the end of U.S. manned spaceflight. It’s okay to be sad, to be bitter. The space shuttle program had a two-year end, an end that ended when Atlantis arrived at its museum home. Though we remain happy to have seen as many moments of that story as we possibly could, on November 2, 2012, we were sad. What are we to do now?
Interview: Norm Thagard November 19, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: Mars, Space Shuttle, The End of the End
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While we were in Florida for the last journey of space shuttle Atlantis, we met up with some astronauts. This experience reminded us of our happenstance interviews of two years earlier, which you can find at “A Year of Lofty Interviews.” Two weeks ago, we posted our follow-up interview with Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke. Today, we share our conversation with shuttle astronaut Norm Thagard.
Thagard flew on four shuttle missions between 1983 and 1995 and spent 115 days on Mir in 1995, for which he crammed to know enough Russian to do his job. According to NASA, Thagard reflected on his Mir experience by saying, “If anyone in 1969 had ever told me that I would wind up having a Lieutenant Colonel in the Russian force as a commander, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’” A transcript of his oral history, done by NASA after his retirement, can be found HERE. But first watch our video interview with Thagard to hear whether he thinks we stopped flying the shuttle too soon and whether he thinks we should go to Mars.
The California Story (Part 3) November 14, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: I Remember California, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle
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A little more than a week after our quadrennial national election, we wonder about our future in space. As space and aviation bloggers, we yearn for the clarity of a “We choose to go to the moon” moment. Time and time again, we have seen the power of space exploration to inspire, to inculcate aspirations to learn, to imagine, to engage. At our own institution, Chapman University, we once saw a young woman get up during an event in Memorial Hall and ask astronaut Mike Massimino, “How can I become an astronaut?” As we mentioned in the second part of this series, named after California Science Center’s newest exhibit, “The California Story,” Doug was surrounded by a class of fifth-graders pointing at the displays related to the space shuttle and challenging each other on their knowledge. Space inspires.
“The California Story” exhibit of space shuttle Endeavour nurtures that inspiration at the museum. In the first part of this series, we interviewed Ken Philips, who’s curating that exhibit. In part two of this series, we gave a general overview of the exhibit: space potty, Endeavour’s tires, scads of photos and videos, a couple of shuttle simulators, and a wide range of other displays. This week, we look at the part of the exhibit that captured and held Doug’s attention: the ROSC, or the Rocketdyne Operations Support Center. The ROSC is a launch control center dedicated to a single component in a shuttle launch: the space shuttle main engine (SSME).
The SSMEs are the three rocket engines attached to the tail of the shuttle orbiter. They are liquid propellant engines—as opposed to the solid fuel boosters—that burn a chemically potent mixture of cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, which are fed from the large, orange external fuel tank. After the hydrogen and oxygen combine in the burning process, the exhaust that escapes from an SSME is essentially super-heated water vapor. In other words, it’s thrust. These SSMEs provide power.
Doug had stopped and gawked at the ROSC exhibit shortly after arriving at the Media Day event, but it wasn’t until he was chatting with Ken Phillips that Doug found out that the person responsible for bringing the ROSC to the California Science Center, Rocketdyne’s Dean Patmor, was at the day’s event. Phillips motioned towards Patmor, blue-shirted and standing nearby. After a quick introduction, Patmor related the story of how he arranged for the ROSC to wind up as a permanent part of “The California Story.”
Patmor’s efforts began eighteen months ago when he realized that Rocketdyne might be forced to scrap the ROSC. For thirty years, every single launch of the shuttle program, Rocketdyne engineers sat watch in the ROSC. But when the shuttle program ended, ROSC became a man-rated system without any launches to support. The ROSC would be “too expensive to maintain,” as Patmor put it, until NASA’s next human-rated launch system comes online. Fearing the loss of the historic control room, Patmor first contacted the California Science Center to see if they would be interested in giving the ROSC a part to play in the exhibit that they were creating for Endeavour. Once he had that part in motion, he broached the subject with his own management. Patmor’s approach is familiar to us at Lofty Ambitions: ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
During its working life, the ROSC was responsible for monitoring the SSMEs’ mind-boggling performance numbers in real-time. Here are just a few of those numbers. The SSMEs’ operating regime encompasses a temperature range 6500º F (-423º Fahrenheit to +6000º Fahrenheit). The engines’ high-pressure fuel turbopump delivers the hydrogen fuel to the combustion chamber under such great pressure (6,515 psia) that it could pump its contents thirty-six miles high into the atmosphere. During the shuttle’s eight-and-a-half minute ascent into orbit, the people in the ROSC kept a watchful eye on those numbers and more. For visitors to the exhibit, the monitors and screens of the ROSC display meaningful, but simulated, launch data. Using real launch data would be an ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) violation.
Doug asked Patmor to tell him one thing about the ROSC that no one else knew. Patmor demurred and explained that he couldn’t imagine that there was an aspect of the ROSC that wasn’t known in his community. But prompted by a colleague from Rocketdyne, Communications Specialist Erin Dick, Patmor led Doug into the consoles to show him the pizza button. This tiny, square, red button controlled one of the voice communication loops that engineers used to communicate. Patmor explained that, once a launch sequence begins (starting with tanking the shuttle about nine hours prior to launch), the engineers are stuck there for the duration. It was customary to provide meals for the ROSC team, hence the need for a pizza communication button.
As befits their name, Rocketdyne is still in the business of designing, building, testing, and launching rocket engines. Currently, they are focused on upgrading the eighteen remaining SSMEs—sixteen flight engines and two for development purposes—for their next role: flying on the Space Launch System (SLS). The SLS, NASA’s next heavy launch vehicle, will make use of four (or perhaps five) of the refitted engines on its core stage. As an aside, Patmor added that once the proposed SLS got going, he fully well expected to be called back from retirement to help to design the SLS control center. A new kind of ROSC will emerge.
And so the story goes. When kids see Endeavour at the museum, they will wonder what it’s like to go to space. When they see the space potty, they’ll start to realize the complexities of traveling beyond our world. When they see the ROSC, they’ll begin to think like engineers and come up with new, unexpected reasons to have an extra button on a console. “The California Story,” as much as it evokes nostalgia, is designed to inspire a future of space exploration.
The End of the End (Part 6: PHOTOS) November 7, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Art & Science, Space Shuttle, The End of the End
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A few days ago, we posted PHOTOS, but we have hundreds of great shots of the great last ride of Atlantis. Today, we share some of the more personal photographs.
The End of the End (Part 5: VIDEO INTERVIEW) November 5, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
Tags: Apollo, Space Shuttle, The End of the End
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On Saturday, we met several astronauts, some of whom agreed to talk with us on camera. We have a yearlong series of video interviews about the U.S. space program that ran ever other Monday from May 23, 2011 through May 7, 2012. We’re excited to build our list of interviews further with Dr. Ken Phillips, a curator at the California Science Center, posted on October 30 and now with Charlie Duke, the tenth man to walk on the Moon.
We interviewed Charlie Duke before, and you can find that post HERE. Today, we post an interview in which we ask him about his career, the end of the shuttle program, and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. And yes, this Apollo astronaut signed Anna’s Apollo skirt, right between the flag and the astronaut.
Without further ado, here is Charlie Duke.
The End of the End (Part 4) November 4, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle, The End of the End
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Just because the space shuttle program has been winding down toward the end of its end doesn’t mean that our work has become easier. In fact, this past week’s cross-country trip to the Space Coast proved to be one of the most demanding stints in our two-year adventure. Of course, the demands have huge rewards.
We flew to Florida on Wednesday. On Thursday, we headed to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) badging office and repeated the now-familiar routine of filling out simple paperwork and being handed what might be out last KSC media badges. We drove from there to the News Center to get the schedule for Friday’s retirement process for the space shuttle Atlantis. Two press briefings were scheduled Thursday afternoon; because they focused on the future, not the past, of human spaceflight, they deserve a separate post. For now, suffice it to say that, yes, we each asked a question. And yes, the briefings were broadcast on NASA-TV.
For the tasks at hand—following Atlantis—we discovered that Friday required a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call. Friday’s alarm clock (cell phones) wasn’t set quite as early as some other of our Space Coast ventures, but with the coast-to-coast time change, we got up near to when we usually go to bed.
We arrived at the KSC News Center by 5:15 a.m., the whole area still cloaked in darkness. Southern California doesn’t boast this deep, quiet darkness. The television news vans were already heading across the street to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and the press room was bustling with journalists working on adrenaline and caffeine, us among them. Just before 6:00 a.m., our writer-friend and Lofty Ambitions guest blogger Margaret Lazarus Dean, who was officially at KSC for The Huffington Post, arrived and met us at the buses. We boarded and headed to the VAB.
As soon as the press group disembarked, we all spread out along the media line. Photographers set up their tripods, and print journalists milled about. The VAB’s door was already raised, Atlantis inside. This first stop of the day was our opportunity to see, for the last time, the orbiter with those individuals who worked on it, as a group of shuttle workers gathered behind a banner celebrating their accomplishment. A commemorative song, complete with actual launch and landing commentary, played loudly—and then played again. The commentary on the recording was the voice of George Diller, a public affairs officer who did the launch commentary for STS-27 through STS-135; he was now standing just a few feet from us. Atlantis was backed out of the VAB for the last time ahead of schedule, turned, and moved slowly away into the darkness.
The press reboarded the buses. Next Stop: the corner of Kennedy Parkway and Schwartz Road for an in-transit photo op. With the VAB now looming behind the orbiter, Atlantis made its way past us. For an orbiter on the ground, it was moving at a good clip. Usually, the orbiter on a transporter travels at between two and four miles an hour. Later in the day, this orbiter would set a land speed record of ten miles per hour. The press re-boarded the buses.
On to the official handover of Atlantis from KSC to the Delaware North Corporation, which runs the Visitor Complex. We used the port-o-potties right away—better sooner than later when it comes to this particular decision. Then, we milled about because shuttle days are defined by hurry-up and wait.
VIPs and the STS-135 showed up. Anna eyed Sandy Magnus, a fellow Illinoisan and STS-135 mission specialist, standing with her crewmates Doug Hurley and Rex Walheim. Donned in her shuttle skirt, Anna approached and boldly asked whether the crew would sign her skirt. We had purchased metallic-ink Sharpies at Target the day before, and Anna had worked for years against shyness for just this sort of opportunity. The astronauts seemed a little confused yet willing, but their handler immediately said, “No autographs today.” The fear is that one autograph could lead to hundreds of requests. Anna was disappointed. There weren’t really that many people in the media and VIP area, and two male media got the male crew members to sign t-shirts they were wearing.
Sandy Magnus, though, struck up a conversation, impressed by the most unusual request to autograph a skirt. She thought her artsy sister might like the shuttle skirt. So she snapped a photo of Anna with her phone. It was the first and best of several requests that day to photograph the skirt or ask where it came from: Go Chase Rabbits.
When excitement about the skirt died down, NASA felt ready to start the retirement ceremony. A high school student named Sierra sang the National Anthem, and the Merritt Island High School color guard and Titusville High School marching band led Atlantis down the road to stop behind the ceremony stage.
The ceremony was short and to the point. Atlantis’s first and last commanders, Karol Bobko and Chris Ferguson, respectively, spoke about their relationships with the orbiter. Bill Moore from Delaware North spoke too. KSC Director Bob Cabana and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden had their commemorative and uplifting say about the shuttle program’s end and the orbiter’s new role to educate and inspire. Bolden noted about NASA, “We are not in the history business. […] We are in the business of making science fiction into science fact.”
All the VIPs on stage then signed the care of Atlantis over to the Visitor Complex, as buzzards circled closer and closer overhead. This orbiter officially remains the property of NASA, the only orbiter indefinitely on loan to its museum home.
We re-boarded the buses. Friday had miles and hours yet to go before we could sleep. Stay tuned at Lofty Ambitions for the rest of the story. The party only got bigger.
The End of the End (Part 3: PHOTOS) November 3, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Last Chance to See, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle, The End of the End
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We are off to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex before we head home. To see a set of photos from yesterday’s long, fascinating day, go to “Atlantis Retirement, 2012″ at our Flicker Photostream. We include just one sample photo here as a teaser. Of course, we’ll have more to say about this end to the end of the space shuttle program in the days to come.
The End of the End (Part 2) November 2, 2012Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration.
Tags: Last Chance to See, Museums & Archives, Space Shuttle, The End of the End
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Okay, this is probably Part 100, having awakened at 4:00 a.m. and stayed with Atlantis until 7:30 p.m. But fireworks over the orbiter was a highlight we wanted to share as soon as we could. Just wait until you see the rest–soon!