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. rartist

    I am one of the thousands who has lost or is loosing their jobs to Obama's NASA cuts, I was part of the Constellation Program. Now me and several thousands (contractors count in this head count too!!!! We outnumber the CC's >4 : 1) of my close friends are out of work or going to loose their jobs. I guess we can go work for the moon program across town. Oh wait, there isn't one.

    I can go work for the next men on the moon, the Chinese.

    The real loss is all those masters and doctorates in science and engineering that now will never happen for jobs that don't exist, as Obama condemns the manned US space program to another 40 years in low earth orbit. The blood on his hands. In 20 years the US will be unable to mount a manned moon program or build any advanced rocket.

    If the US government is that short on funds, the USAF needs to go buy & fly Russian Mig's instead of building F-22's and F-35's.

    May 15, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    I just keep thinking how many Americans are losing their jobs with the demise of the shuttle program and how many young Americans will lose a dream. Our kids used to look up to these brave men, now they look up to thugs who sing gangsta rap... our lives are definitely heading down the wrong road folks!

    May 15, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Justin

    In 11 years, NASA went from having rockets that would flip over and explode to having two men walking around on another planet. No one has ever beat us to that. We kill manned spaceflight, we kill america's supremacy in space. End of story.

    May 15, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. big bird

    I seen a real life star war when I was 16 (1996). Me and a few of my buddys were out one night over by the PIR in AZ. What caught our attention was a flash of light in the sky and at that same moment we all looked up. They looked like stars in the sky but making flashes. And shooting upwards instead of downwards. One actually made a LOOP in the sky and almost a split second later there was a streak of light in the same spot almost as if it was being attacked. Stars don't make loops in the sky...

    May 15, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Roscoe

    Hey "Death Panel" - Most cities and their school systems are and have been run by Democrats for decades. Most large city schools are unmitigated disaster areas, no matter how much money is thrown at them. The teacher unions, who control what and how education is run in all public schools, is completely infested with far left Democrats, along with a generous sprinkling of outright marxists. They don't care how many incompetent teachers work in our schools, only that none of them ever get fired - all thanks to Democrat controlled unions.

    You are like so many members of the "give it to me for free because I deserve it" party - the Democrats. Not a clue what it takes to succeed...only a miserable anger when your piece of the pie someone else baked was not as big as you "deserved". I'm sure you would have been one of the biggest whiners had you worked for "Wayne" - but then, you're probably the type who helped your buddy "Tammi" get 4 kids by 4 different guys - and then expected everyone else to take care of them!

    May 15, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. homeless kid

    Obama gonna leave us in the dirt just like lil bush did.

    May 15, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mirrored Furniture ·

    home insulation would be much needed this coming Christmas so i am scouting the local hardware for some supplies `

    November 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
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