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. Jerry

    Instead of dropping bombs, fighting for oil and killing people, why don’t we get together build something that move us into direction of exploring universe.

    May 14, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Todd

    OK facts...

    NASA budget = .7% (.007) of the total USA budget.
    NASA does so much more for our economy than is given credit. Do a search on NASA spinoff technology. Come to your own conclusions.

    It is sad to see the shuttles retire, but they are too complex, too expensive and can't go beyond Earth orbit. The Shuttle was never able to accomplish all of its lofty goals. (1) lauch all military, commercial, NASA probes, (2) service probes in orbit or return them to land for repair and relaunch later. (3) build space station for science and for launching point beyond Earth orbit.

    It was able to build the space station, so props to the shuttles for that. Props for all the science they did as well and to all the astronauts that flew. 🙂

    May 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. seigell

    There are even more benefits to the People and Economies of this world that are the direct and indirect result of our decades of Space Exploration.
    Every time that your GPS tells you "Turn left at next intersection..."
    Every time you watch Cable or Satellite TV...
    Every iPod or iPhone or MP3 Player or other miniturized electronics...
    Every Unmanned Vehicle – Military or Deep-Sea or Bomb-Squad...
    Every time that you tune your radio or TV to a Weather Report...

    The list of contributions to our quality of Everyday Life are lengthy. And will always justify the paltry percentage of our overal National Budget...

    May 14, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. davetharave

    To Johny Anonymous, shouldn't we have starships by now, no not yet. In the movie 2010 a US and Soviet (sic) team of astronauts travel to Jupiter to rescue HAL and find out about the monolith and what killed Bowman. They travel in a conventionally powered (albeit large) space vehicle which took a couple of months to make the trip. It will take another 53 years before Zefram Cochrane discovers the warp engine making interstellar travel possible ( I assume you mean by Starship, of course, a vehicle capable of interstellar travel i.e. between stars ) So that is yet another reason not to mothball the current shuttle fleet which, with some refurbishments and re-certification, would be capable of many more space missions and secure our continued dominance of the orbital and sub-orbital regions.

    May 14, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sue K.

    Re: Post #43 CF, as long as education is controlled and run by left wing idealogues, we will never be able to become #1 in education. As long as the schools are run by idiots who cancel basketball tournaments to promote their political agenda, or throw students wearing American flags out of school, we're in deep trouble. Dream on CF....because space travel for Americans will only be in our dreams for the next decade or more.

    May 14, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Real Deal

    The day we stop progressing is the day we begin to move backward.

    May 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Marc Casteels

    As long as people sleep in the streets, and as long as some people in your country have no health services coverage, or have to stick up their hand for asking a few coins to eat.. it is a very good decision for your president to cut back on these expensive toys.
    Not because they are bad, merely because basic and bottom needs of people like housing, health, education have to be solved first.
    After that, you can fly all the way to Pluto if your like.
    Marc

    May 14, 2010 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Wayne

    Carlos... Yeah we REPUBLICANS DO WORK HARD!...

    I'v bee a Republican all my life and have also owned myu own Engineering firm... I put in 18 hour days and constantly ran ahead of the envelope.... (never took home more than $100K /year) But I've had many empolyees (mostly Democrats) that balked at more than 8 hours a day(even WITH time and a half), but they were always the one's who wanted big raises and bonuses, while just a few of us carried the ball..

    I'm retired now, and I still work hard, doing engineering work. So... Don't tell me that Republicans DONT work hard so others don't have to.

    May 14, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Phil

    The successful future of the US manned space exploration requires a quantum leap in rocket technology beyond the chemical rockets we now use. That technology is the nuclear rocket which is magnitudes more powerful (ie specific impulse) than our current chemical rockets and is already partially developed. Very few people know that such rockets were built in the sixties and seventies (NERVA program) anticipating mars missions after apollo. Current chemical rockets can boost two percent of their weight in payload while nuclear rockets have the capability to boost fifty percent or more of their weight in payload. The big question is whether or not our people are ready to embrace nuclear rocket propulsion politically. If we don't build them it is certain that others will.

    May 15, 2010 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
  10. Andrew B.

    Well Said Brian T. (Post #18). The war has sucked up enough funding, and why? For what? I am speaking to you as an war veteran. I served in Ramstein, Germany. I saw nearly everything that they shipped into the middle east and half of it came back as nothing more than scrap metal! Can you imagine being inside a tin can when an IED exploded near it? I don't want to. I transported the Brave Men and Women who were not so lucky inside their tin can. Bring them home, save money and save LIVES!

    May 15, 2010 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. Just a Dad

    The issue is not republican vs. democrat, it is not about schools, jails, the economy, Iraq, nor Afghanistan. It is not even really about NASA.

    Who among us did not at one time or another crawl inside a big card board box and pretend it was a rocketship?

    Every child grows up with dreams of becoming a policeman, fireman, or astronaut, so I ask you what is the value of your childrens' dreams?

    (For the record I am a Republican who did vote for Obama, mostly because of his pledge on manned spaceflight.)

    May 15, 2010 at 5:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. Death Panel Sarah

    To...Damien from Oregon

    Hey, can you say....TEA PARTY(baggers)!!!!
    They must not have jobs!!!
    All I can say is, if you are not rich and you are a Republican, you are a fool!!!

    May 15, 2010 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  13. Death Panel Sarah

    To Sue K(#50) and Wayne(#53)
    First of all, the Reptili'con's have been trying to DESTROY public education for decades! That is why we are not 'first'. A good public education is seen in the rest of the world as a requirement to an educated and talented populace.
    Second, when reading Wayne's post(spelling) it is apparent he really IS a Republican, as he demonstrates their usual contempt for education. That is why the 'right wing nuts' are uaually from the 'lower' end of the education scale.

    May 15, 2010 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Death Panel Sarah

    I guess the republican idea of 'hard work' is standing by and ordering work done by democrats. Doesn't sound so hard to bark orders all day. The poor laborers are doing the hard work!!!

    May 15, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. Completely Embarassed

    ALL of these comments show exactly why The United States of America is in the condition it is in. I am sick of the backstabbing, name calling and blame placing. Grow up and take some personal responsibilty.
    NASA should be fully funded to develop public and encourage private sector developement of technologies to get man off this rock.
    And all of you "it takes a village" idiots..... If you can't pay your own way in life why should I pay for you. If you are going to make babies, feed them yourself. Get out of MY pocket.
    You are all nothing but a bunch of whinning, morons.

    May 15, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
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