It was a sad day for me today as, at about 11 o clock this morning, the last NASA space shuttle touched down at Kennedy Space Centre.
Space shuttles have just always been around, they kicked off the project in the early 80's (when I would have been a baby) and therefore I grew up with the space shuttles missions going on. When you're young you don't think about what would have come before, it's all about the now, and space is pretty much the best thing in the world (probably even better than dinosaurs!) - one thing is for sure is that you don't ever imagine it ending!
Above the normal boys fascination with spaceflight, I felt especially engrossed with the whole adventure. We were living in America when the Challenger disaster happened, and I remember very clearly seeing the TV around the breakfast table breaking the news to the nation that morning. I will also never forget going to school that day, the way it effected everyone, and how a dark cloud just seemed to descend over everything.
Whilst in the States we also visited Kennedy Space Centre, and I remember having a large toy of the space shuttle. However, at seven years old it was more fun to believe that the booster rockets were for a destructive purpose than just to provide propulsion. I also got a load of photos from the visitor centre which I happened to think about, and collect from my Dad's, a few years back. They are tucked away in a drawer upstairs now.
And so, with the news that NASA was winding down its space shuttle programme (which had been coming since the Columbia disaster) I wanted to catch as much of the action as I could. I watched the launch of Endeavor a few weeks back and was blown away by the way the thing accelerates (and for how long it keeps accelerating!) If you've the sort of person who only really sees a few seconds of a launch on the news in the evening then watch this!
A few moments after the launch there was an awesome photo that went around the went like a bushfire in the Australian outback! It was a photo of the shuttle coming through the clouds, taken from a passenger on a commercial flight. Its a great photo. But then today I found this video! This is fantastic!
I missed the launch of Atlantis, the very last flight, but was determined to watch it re-enter our atmosphere and arrive back on terra-firma. It was due to land at about 11am (GMT) and I had the live stream going from about 8am! It was great to see what goes on in mission control, and the screens they see. The shuttle orbits the earth SO fast!
Who knows what will replace this, and what Alfie will have to amaze him when he is six years old. And for that reason I wanted to try and show him what was going on. Sadly the landing was at night, and so most of the images were through infa-red and night vision cameras - none of which are particularly good at grabbing the attention of a 19 month old boy. Especially as by now he had got hold of my phone case, and whacking the keys on the laptop were far more entertaining!
Once stationary there was a fantastic image on the laptop screen, it even captured Alfie's attention! I noticed later on in the day someone else had photoed their laptop screen and the BBC were circulating it as the "first picture of Atlantis"
And just like that it was over. 30 years, 135 missions, millions of miles.
I think what saddens me most is that the World seems to be becoming a place where instead of pushing the boundaries of what is possible we are consolidating on what we have with a fear of world destruction or financial meltdown. Where are the next generation of scientists and engineers going to come from when these type of projects continually disappear? What are kids going to have to aspire to, and dream of becoming? You can have as many battery powered or solar charged ideas as you like, but it'll NEVER have the appeal of space flight. I thought we were always being told that be 2030 we would all be able to holiday in Space - clearly not.
In space, we had the shuttles. In the sky, we had Concorde. On land, I can't see anything after Bloodhound SSC. That's it, adventure over.
I grew up in an era where every eight year old dreamt of being a spaceman ... but by the time Alfie reaches eight spacemen might not even exist.