May 14th, 2010
01:49 PM ET

Watching hatch close on Atlantis' (maybe) final flight

Space Shuttle Atlantis sits on the launch pad as it prepares for what may be the shuttle's final flight.

The astronauts were all on board. The hatch was closed.  George Diller, voice of launch control, said, "the astronauts appear to be starting their pressure checks."

As I listened to the commentary I could not help but think how all this was coming to an end.  In many ways, it's going to be an agonizing end.

This is supposed to be the last flight of the orbiter Atlantis.  Maybe.  There are only two flights left after this. Maybe.  Instead of a clean-cut ending to the shuttle program,  it looks as if this will be a long, drawn out and agonizing  march to the end.

The next shuttle flight won't come until September maybe October.  That was supposed to be the last.  The July mission, for technical reasons, may not fly now  until next February.  And maybe, just maybe, NASA will add one more perhaps next June.  It's all up in the air, pardon the unintentional pun.

About all that is clear is that thousands of people are losing their jobs I first started covering the space program back in 1982 not long after the very first flight of Columbia.  There was so much euphoria back then.  The new era in space travel had just begun. The most complicated vehicle ever built by humans was flying and coming back landing on a runway. That had never been done before in human history.

A week ago in Houston I interviewed John Young and Bob Crippen.  They are in the history books as the commander and pilot of STS 1 Columbia, the first flight. There was some talk back then both men told me of perhaps flying that flight unmanned.  No way, both men say the argued.  Like the Mercury 7 boys, these two men had the right stuff!  They flew that mission and for the first time a spacecraft flew with humans before it was tested with an unmanned flight.

Thousands of people gathered here for that moment in history.  Since then, I've seen the crowds thin over the years.  Shuttle flights became, except when there were accidents,  too routine to garner much attention.

But now, the people are back! In just 30 minutes, the visitors center here sold out of 9,000 tickets to watch the launch from a viewing area.

People want to see it one more time or for the first time. Now that it is going away, the love affair with the shuttle has been rekindled.

I can't count how many I've seen a launch and it never gets old.  My heart  always skips a beat at liftoff.  It's a love affair I hate to see coming to an end.

Check out our multimedia interactive if you're thinking about making a trip for the last few launches and we'll give you tips on where to go, what to see and where you'll find the best seat for the launch.

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Filed under: Space
soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. Sharon Pulsifer

    Gee, tammi did someone force you to have four children with four deadbeat men? I raised four children without help from the government and they are all working members of society. I agree that your children need things but there are lots of social agencies to help without taking funding away from NASA

    May 14, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cory in Maine

    Tammi in Mississippi: no job "your want" for 4 years; multiple "Daddies"; "you" need the funds more than the "rich" space agency; and you voted for "Him" [Caps were yours].

    Tammi - if you are real and the note was not a big put-on by a right wing nut - then I sincerely hope that there aren't very many more of you, because if there are, this country doesn't have a chance.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kim

    While I'm not sorry to see the Constellation program go, it was like watching history step back 40 years. Capsules?? Really?? Having all manned space flight stripped from our control is utter stupidity. We can't depend on foreign governments to give us a ride, and at exorbitant cost, and do we really want a Russian/Chinese vessel grabbing one of our satellites so our ride-along astronaut(s) can fix it; I know I don't.

    "Since then, I've seen the crowds thin over the years. Shuttle flights became, except when there were accidents, too routine to garner much attention." While i think there's some validity to this, I think it also has to do with our de-emphasis of science and engineering in our education system. Couple that with losing the beauty and awe of even seeing manned launches in the US and we will indeed be regretting both decisions very much in the future.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Damien from Oregon

    Hey Carlos!

    There's an old "truism" that's been around for at least 40 years:

    Question: why is it that the it's the Left who are almost always the ones taking to the streets and protesting?

    Answer: because the Right have jobs and don't have the spare time!

    May 14, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CC

    I began following the space program back in the '60s as a young boy. The dream of space led to a related technical career that I enjoy today. Without the dream, who knows what I would have done with my life.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
  6. bporlando

    @ Tammie in Mississippi

    Please explain to me why it's the government's place to support you? Perhaps if you'd gotten an education and kept your legs together you wouldn't be in the situation you're in. I'm sick and tired of my tax dollars supporting the likes of you. If you can't afford to have kids then don't have them.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michael Jones

    Sorry, but this country needs a lot more prisons. Forget the space stuff. Here in Detroit we had a cop killed by someone who was let out early. I say put the bad guys behind bars and keep them there.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Gene

    This isn't the only thing Obama said that he would then after in office, backed off. What willl he do next, of not do?

    May 14, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JS

    Cory, I'll second your response. Tammi just cannot be a legitimate poster, and God help us if she is.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Larry Williams

    As a child of the 60's, I can remember very well watching every Apollo mission including the historic first moon landing. These space adventures hald a very special place in my heart. It was a time when lots of little boys dreamed of growing up to become an astronaut.

    I realize that younger generations don't see things as I do. Space travel is not filled with the same glamour, mystery and sense of adventure as it was to a boy who grew up reading Isamov, Clarke and Hubbard novels. Space shuttle missions have become so routine that most people do not know about them unless there is some type of tragedy.

    Even sadder is that our nation is reduced to a state where we will no longer be leaders in the "final frontier". When JFK said, "We choose to go to the moon", the country cheered ...... while the world feared how powerful we would become.

    I now fear that we are at the start of the decline of our leadership role on this planet.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Non_Yank

    Tammi Moore – Maybe you should keep your legs closed.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. davetharave

    Atlantis looks great lifting off . . . why are we shutting down these magnificant flying vehicles when we have no back-up except foreign owned, and they appear to be doing great and have many more possible missions capability ?!? Put the vehicles into a one year refurbishment and full inspection instead and re-certify them for another 10 years. I'm sure there would be dozens of current astronauts willing to 'volunteer' to continue flying these tremendous ships and keep us first in space. It's going to be seen as a huge mistake if we retire them now.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CF

    Maybe we should become first in education. Once that is accomplished, space travel wil take care of itself.

    May 14, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Johny Anonymous

    Shouldn't we have Starships by now?

    May 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dave

    I really hate hearing NASA is a 'waste of money'.

    How about all the money in computers and communication that fuel the US economy that are direct results of tech advances coming out of the space program?

    Microsoft, Apple, Google, Cisco, Dell, Oracle, Adobe, Motorola, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Time Warner, Cox... and many, many others... all owe their present existence directly or indirectly to NASA. Anyone want to add up that economic impact vs. NASA's budget since it's inception?

    Would computers exist if we never pushed into space? Probably, would they be where they are today if we hadn't? I seriously doubt it. In fact I would say anyone griping about NASA's waste of money on the internet is defeating their own argument. I have never worked for NASA or a NASA contractor. Neither has anyone I know personally or anyone in my family... but I do work in IT, and I do consider every dollar I have earned in my adult life more or less a direct result of the space program.

    Oh yeah, the science we get out of it is cool too...

    As long term economic investments go... NASA is a GREAT place to 'waste' money. We should waste a lot more there. I don't mean to slight the science we get out of NASA, but if you want to argue economics, let's look at cost to benefit when you factor resultant technology that has been so critical for US economic health the last few DECADES.

    I agree with an earlier post, forget GM and Chrysler, bail out NASA.

    Should we retire the Shuttle? Absolutely. But it's replacement vehicle should have launched 10 years ago.

    May 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
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