Posted By RichC on April 17, 2012
It is still quite remarkable to see NASA haul around a giant space shuttle piggybacked on a modified Boeing747, this time it is Discovery heading to its final Washington DC Smithsonian home. For those of us who grew up with the entire space program it is indeed a sad end to an adventurous and exciting time of exploration. Here’s hoping we will return again … maybe through the private sector and experimental aviation?
Personal reflection regarding space exploration has me remembering a few key moments from my past. Like watching the moon landing on our tiny black and white TV with my family in 1969, or meeting the astronaut John Glenn in our backyard at age 13 (he was campaigning). Pretty memorable stuff for a kid growing up. Then there was my attempt to watch a shuttle launch in January of 1986, with Brenda 5 months pregnant with Katelyn … but after waiting in the cold, the launch was scrubbed because there was ice. Sadly, an attempt was made the next day to launch Challenger resulting in the loss of ship and crew … shaking NASA to the core. Who can forget Houston Control issuing the “Challenger, go with throttle up” and Commander Dick Scobee replying, “Roger, go with throttle up.” It still gives me chills.
Challenger, go wirh throttle up – Jan. 28, 1986
NASA and the country regrouped and improved on their mistakes and flaws stringing an impressive decade plus of flights and triumphs in building the space station, telescopes, launching satellites and performing experiments. Enough so that after touring Kennedy Space Center on our family vacation my daughter Katelyn headed to space camp in Huntsville Alabama.
Unfortunately confidence grew and flaws were missed or under calculated and the space shuttle Columbia incinerated on reentry spreading parts over south and south central United States. Again, the nation mourned the loss of shuttle and crew.
Since my daughter was interested in NASA and space, the local Cincinnati television station interviewed her regarding her thoughts. She continued her interest in space (buying a telescope with her own money), science and medicine …. eventually deciding she wanted to be a flight surgeon for NASA. Great aspirations. Her high school physics teacher noted this and nominated her for a NASA Sharp internship at the University of New Mexico after her junior year of high school. She worked on biomedical research and even had her name added to an scientific paper on immunosensors (remember SARS). Along with the work, she gained confidence in living away from home and had opportunities to visit places like the labs of the White Sands Test Facilities.
Discovery made its first pass over Dulles 10 minutes ahead of schedule, spurring stragglers to run up the stairs to the parking deck roof, where 400 people gathered from as far as Pittsburgh and North Carolina.
“Awe-inspiring, just amazing,” said Kathy Hertz Kinter, 35, of Clifton after Discovery, its modified 747 carrier and a white dart of a NASA T-38 chase plane winged over Dulles and turned right to head toward the District.
“It was just like, ‘whoosh,’ and it went right over our heads,” said Hertz Kinter, who brought her son Sam, 9. “Maybe this will propel Sam to be an astronaut.”
Photographers on the parking deck roof perched atop coolers and chairs as Discovery returned 45 minutes later, easing down runway 1R for a second pass before circling the airport and finally flaring to a landing.
“There it is!” someone yelled as the 747’s landing lights appeared to the west and the crowd began to clap.
Weathered, battered and beat-up looking, Discovery’s scuffed side panels told the story of its 39 trips to space.