Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blast Off

On most days around this long stretch of beach catching the Atlantic surf attention is drawn to things like seashells and pelicans, the occasional turtle and now and then a pod of dolphins playing offshore. Fishing boats, sailboats and small planes overhead are common but earth trembling sights are rarer.


Forty-seven miles to the south of our seashells and pelicans is Cape Canaveral and NASAs Kennedy Space Center, and on those days when the space shuttle is scheduled to lift off all attention turns to the blue skies over Cape Canaveral. At 4:53 p.m. last Thursday the oldest of the three shuttles, Discovery roared into the sky on its final flight, applauded by crowds watching from the beach. Most of us have seen it on video, on the television news and in countless Hollywood versions. Seeing a shuttle piggyback on huge rockets blasting into space without the filter of a TV camera adds something to the experience. Forty-seven miles is too far to actually feel the ground rumbling as the engines roar to life, but there is a sensation of trembling power in that gigantic glow of orange-colored thrust. Something inside breaks free and the involuntary WOW! HOLY COW! or WHOA! spills out.


If for no other reason Thursday’s launch deserves mention because it is the end of an era. First launched on August 30, 1984 the Discovery is scheduled for retirement, and following its official decommissioning will be moved to the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum. Discovery has had a noble career and both NASA and its builder Rockwell International Space Systems can be proud of the orbiter’s performance. In twenty-seven years of service the Discovery has:

• flown thirty-nine missions

• carried 246 crew members into space

• spent 352 days in orbit

• circled the earth 5,628 times at 17,400 miles per hour

• traveled almost 143 million miles

• launched the Hubble Space Telescope


NASA calls Discovery its workhorse, ambassador, scientist and equal opportunity emissary, having fulfilled all those roles during its long years of service. On this last mission the orbiter is carrying the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module and the first humanoid robot in space, Robonaut 2.

3 comments:

  1. The pictures are stunning of the trail of the shuttle. Even though you were not "up close and personal", it is a thrilling sight to share personally a little bit of history. Very informative post with great pictures.

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  2. As you said, always a thrill. And we were old enough to understand at the beginning of it all. Sad to see this era ending and the future of US involvement cut so far down due to the lack of funding. I am of the opinion that space exploration is important if for no other reason than it gives mankind something other worldly, something beyond the strife of the everyday. A day after the Challenger exploded, I would have climbed the steps to another launch.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America