Cya: Space Shuttles

This morning marks the final time we will see a space shuttle in flight. Atlantis flies home and lands at Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral, Florida. As soon as it's landing gear wheels stop moving this will be the end of a truely historic era in space travel.
Photos: nasa.gov, Collage: CrazyasaCoolFox
From top left clockwise: Enterprise test flight, Columbia first launch,
Challenger launch, Atlantis landing at  Edwards AFB,
Endevour docked at ISS, Discovery in orbit.
(click to magnify)

Space Shuttle Atlantis spent 294 days and more that 4648 total orbits deploying 14 satellites during 35 missions. From here on the Russian space agency will be refueling and resupplying the International Space Station.

If the date, July 20th sounds familiar to you, it was 42 years ago that we heard the words, "Houston... the Eagle has landed." Also the words, "that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." were uttered on that same day. NASA may have or may not have chosen this day to land it's last shuttle, but its a very appropriate day.

I can recall that day 42 years ago. We watched the lunar landing and first steps on a small black and white set at a lake house where our family was vacationing. Those memories are very fresh in my mind. My birthday would be the next day so every birthday I have has a strong connection to history.

The first launch of the shuttle Columbia was amazingly exciting. Nobody knew how it would go. Nothing of that size and configuration was ever launched like that before. It could have been a tremendous disaster or an unbelievable success. And success it was.

The return landing was just the same. Even though the landing had been tested on Shuttle Enterprise, the forgotten shuttle, this was the first time the landing was nationally televised. Columbia rolled out on the floor of a dry lake bed in California just a two days later.

It's tragic that 14 astronauts lost there lives in the Challenger and Columbia disasters. NASA learned a lot from both accidents and vowed to improve shuttle safety which they did.

These exciting launches and landings will be missed. I personally can't wait to see what NASA has up it's sleeve for the future of space travel and exploration.

Later shuttles...
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