Monday, July 4, 2011

The Biggest Firework of Them All

Happy Fourth of July, Capers! I've been out of pocket on a family Grand Canyon adventure that I will blog about in upcoming posts. At the moment, I'm trying to get to the bottom of four huge suitcases full of dirt, grime, and sweat courtesy of the great American West.

It was a spectacular trip, but when temperatures hit 120 degrees in Phoenix the last day, we decided to cut it a day short and head back to the heat and humidity that we know best - just in time for the July 4th festivities. We don't have anything planned since we didn't expect to be home, but it's nice to have a day or two to decompress before the work week begins. Vacation is great, but coming home is even greater.

We do have firework plans at the end of this week, however. We couldn't resist the temptation to get one more look at a shuttle launch, and this time, it will truly be one more look. Atlantis lifts off this Friday, July 8th at 11:26 AM, and it is not only her final launch, but the final launch of any space shuttle. We had not planned to try and attend, but a friend who has never seen a launch twisted our arm and asked us to join him. It didn't take much of a twist.

Atlantis Ready for Final Launch

Those of you who have read my past blog posts know that I am a NASA junkie. It's hard to imagine who would not be, but I realize NASA has its detractors. For all those who claim supporting a space program is a waste of resources, I would challenge them to find a government R&D program that has produced such a return on investment for the public. I'm talking a powerful combination of national pride and technological advances that have had a direct impact on the way Americans live and breathe. For me and my family, NASA has been our livelihood for over 20 years and our passion for as long as we can remember, so yeah, perhaps I'm a little biased.

Anyway, to get a look at the grandest firework America has ever produced, you will have to wait four more days past Independence Day. Cape Canaveral and the greater Space Coast are going to be a complete and utter zoo come Friday, but we are gluttons for punishment and are going down just for the one day before heading back.

If anyone else expects to be in the area, we will be at Jetty Park this time, along with a gazillion other space buffs. We won't have the view that we did for the Discovery launch back in February from the Space Center viewing area. My husband was able to pull one more center pass out of his hat for this one which we have offered to our friend who has never seen/felt a launch up close.

Instead, we will take it in like the locals have time and again over the past 30 years - from a beach chair on the space coast - assuming, of course, that all goes according to schedule. Worst case, we sit in a beach chair on the space coast with nothing but blue sky, sand, and surf (and a few thousand other sentimental space fanatics). Still not a bad deal.

For those of you who are going to make the roadtrip down, I found some great information on a Patch site in Bloomingdale, FL (Tampa area) that you will find useful. Here's the link:

Bloomingdale Patch: If You Go: Final Shuttle Launch.

And here are the links to my prior posts about Discovery and Endeavor's final flights:

Countdown to Discovery's Last Mission
As Promised, STS-133 Launch Video...
Endeavour's Final Mission.

And last but not least, I've uploaded the slideshow/video I put together from our viewing of the final Discovery launch as a thank you to our hosts. A Fourth of July tribute to the ultimate American Firework.


Atlantis will remain in Florida at the end of this final mission. She will be on permanent display at the Kennedy Space Center for the public to visit. A tour of the Space Center is always a worthwhile activity and will be even more so once Atlantis takes up permanent residence there.

You know, early last year when the President announced the cancellation of NASA's next generation manned space flight program, Constellation, it was initially interpreted by many as the end of manned flight for NASA. The death knells were sounded by news anchors and analysts for American manned spaceflight. Since then, the news coming out of NASA has mentioned development of manned flight vehicles for missions to asteroids and Mars and refitting of the Constellation Orion capsule for 21-day manned missions. All of this was proposed in the President's speech at the Space Center in April, 2010, but all we heard was no Constellation or shuttle follow on.

This does not sound like the end of America's manned space flight program to me - just a gap like we saw between Apollo and the Space Shuttle. Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, but I don't believe the launch of Atlantis on Friday will be the last time we and our children and our grandchildren will see American heroes liftoff into space flying the NASA meatball. The destination has been changed, but the dream of manned exploration of the solar system is alive and well. Stay tuned, space fans...

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