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Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Eagle •


Space Shuttle Atlantis

AP photos Left: The Space Shuttle Atlantis flies skyward as it lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on Friday in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Atlantis is the 135th and final space shuttle launch for NASA. Center: The Howard family from Huddersfield, England, walk along the Max Brewer Bridge before the launch of Atlantis Friday in Titusville, Fla. Right: Spectators watch the final launch of Atlantis in Titusville, Fla. Four astronauts are taking Atlantis for one last ride, the very last one of the 30-year space shuttle era. For more on the final flight, go to

Americans assemble to watch shuttle’s final liftoff TITUSVILLE, Fla. — It was a tailgate party for the ages. They came packing tents and camp chairs, coolers and snacks, Sodoku books and laptops, parking cars and RVs in almost every available space along U.S. 1 to witness history blasting off in the haze across the Indian River. The mood was festive but a little wistful Friday as they waited for Atlantis to lift off, the nation’s final space shuttle launch after 30 years


and 135 missions. After fretful hours of watching the cloudy, threatening skies, they were rewarded. Packed body-to-body along the river, they counted down the last 10 seconds before the launch, about 10 miles away. A cheer arose as billowing smoke appeared, then the ball of fire as the shuttle sped into the clouds. After a delay, came the groundshaking roar thundering across the water and through the throng. “It’s just such a majestic sight,” said 24-year-old Jessica Andes, from

Celebration, Fla. “We’ll never see it again.” NASA expected before launch about 750,000 to 1 million people to descend on the region. The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office declined to make a guess on Friday. But a spokesman, Lt. Todd Maddox, noted there was total gridlock, no traffic moving more than an hour after launch. David Hill, 52, and his 15-year-old daughter, Tanya, got in their red Subaru Outback Tuesday and drove down from Sutton, N.H. They

• Video of the launch: • NASA fan blogs about the launch:

QUOTABLE “The shuttle is always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through.” Atlantis commander Christopher Ferguson just before launch.

“Those vehicles, in my opinion, could fly for another 30 years and could be flown safely.” Robert Crippen, pilot of the first space shuttle flight.

“It’ll be sad to see it retired. But we are looking forward to new spacecraft, new destinations. We’re all excited about the future.” Mark Kelly, commander of the next-to-last-space shuttle flight.

“There is no embarrassment in setting the bar impossibly high and then failing to clear it. What matters is that we strived mightily to do so.” Astronaut Duane Carey

“It’s a strategic mistake for the United States ... to replace the space shuttle for nothing.” Former NASA Administrator Michael

arrived at 6 a.m. Friday and wedged their car in among the others parked in all directions along the highway. They came two years ago to see a launch and missed it because it was canceled. “I wanted to feel the power of 7 million pounds of thrust coming across that water there, I wanted to feel it on my chest,” said Hill, who drives a school bus back home. “I wanted to experience it. You can’t experience it watching NASA TV. That’s why we’re here. If we don’t do it now, we never will.”

Ed Gerrish and five members of his family arrived Thursday night from North Port, Fla., on the other side of the state, parking their hulking RV along U.S. 1, just feet from the river. They promptly got it stuck in the sand so had to stay put. “It’s the end of something that a lot of us have grown up with,” said Gerrish, an equipment operator who was seeing his first shuttle launch after putting it off for years. “I don’t know if an opportunity to see something like this is going to come along again. ... It’s sad.”

• Also: To see a twitter feed from atmospheric sciences graduate student Keri Bean about the final liftoff, go to

Space program fell short on claims By SETH BORENSTEIN Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The space shuttle was sold to America as cheap, safe and reliable. It was none of those. It cost $196 billion over 40 years, ended the lives of 14 astronauts and managed to make less than half the flights promised. Yet despite all that, there were some big achievements that weren’t promised: major scientific advances, stunning photos of the cosmos, a highflying vehicle of diplomacy that helped bring Cold War enemies closer, and something to brag about. Former President George H.W. Bush, who oversaw the early flights, said the shuttle program “authored a truly inspiring chapter in the history of human exploration.” NASA’s first space shuttle flight was in April 1981. The 135th and final launch is set for July 8. Once Atlantis lands at the end of a 12-day mission, it and the other two remaining shuttles are officially museum pieces — more expensive than any paintings. America has done far more for far less. The total price tag for the program was more than twice the $90 billion NASA originally calculated. The nation spent more on the space shuttle than the combined cost of soaring to the moon, creating the atom bomb, and digging the Panama Canal, according to an analysis by The Associated Press using figures from NASA and the Smithsonian Institution and

adjusting for inflation. Even its most ardent supporters concede that the shuttle program never lived up to its initial promise. The selling point when it was conceived four decades ago was that with weekly launches, getting into space would be relatively inexpensive and safe. That wasn’t the case. “But there is no embarrassment in setting the bar impossibly high and then failing to clear it,” said former astronaut Duane Carey, who

flew in 2002. “What matters is that we strived mightily to do so — and we did strive mightily. The main legacy left by the shuttle program is that of a magnificent failure.” Of the five shuttles built, two were lost in fiery tragedies. The most shuttle flights taken in one year was nine — far from the promised 50. The program also managed to make blasting into space seem everyday dull by going to the same place over and

over again. Shuttles circled the planet 20,830 times, but went nowhere really new. The shuttle’s epitaph is “we tried,” said Hans Mark, a former deputy NASA administrator who oversaw most of the first dozen launches. Six years ago, then-NASA chief Michael Griffin even called the shuttle program a mistake. But as a mistake it is one that paid off in wildly unexpected ways that weren’t about money and reliability. “The discoveries it enabled, the international cooperation it fostered and the knowledge it gained — often at great human cost — has also contributed in countless, important ways to humanity and our common progress,” President Bush wrote The Associated Press in an email. Bush oversaw the program’s early days as vice president, a job that has by tradition supervised NASA. There are the magnificent photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, which helped pinpoint the age of the universe and demonstrated the existence of mysterious dark energy; the ongoing labwork on the International Space Station; a multitude of satellites for everything from spying to climate change; and spacecraft that explore the solar system. All owe their existence to the space shuttle. The Hubble was not just launched from the shuttle — it was repaired and upgraded five times by shuttle astronauts. They also captured and fixed satellites in orbit.

By MITCH STACY Associated Press


Thirty years of flight by NASA’s space shuttles will end once Atlantis returns home from this last mission. The space agency will be looking to deeper space exploration, but the future is still somewhat unclear. NASA is looking to private companies to develop a new space vehicle and it will be at least three years, maybe longer, before one is ready. Some basics about the shuttle program and why it is ending: Q: Why are the shuttles retiring? A: The shuttles are aging and expensive and their chief task of building the International Space Station is essentially done. Now NASA wants to do something new. Q: Who decided to stop flying the shuttles? A: President George W. Bush made the decision in 2004. He wanted astronauts to go back to the moon, and eventually to Mars. But President Barack Obama dropped the moon mission. His plan has NASA building a giant rocket to send astronauts to an asteroid, and eventually Mars, while turning over to private companies the job of carrying cargo and astronauts to the space station. Q: Why were the shuttles built? A: It was supposed to make getting into space cheap, simple and safe, flying into low orbit virtually every week. It didn’t accomplish that. But it was the best way to get big items — such as satellites and the Hubble Space Telescope — into orbit and fix them if needed. For the space station, it was a combination moving van and construction crane. What made the shuttle unique was its ability to do all kinds of things. Q: Will the astronauts still have jobs? A: Some will. More than a dozen astronauts will still go to space and live on the space station. Others will wait around for slots on still-tobe-built spaceships, including the ride to an asteroid. Others will leave the program. The same thing happened after the Apollo program ended nearly 40 years ago. To read the complete Q&A, go to

LAUNCH: Fan arrived at the site at 4 in the morning ATLANTIS: Crew to dock with space station Continued from A1

shuttle program after 30 years. “During the past couple of days, as we toured the facilities, we realized this was the end,” said Bean, who was selected out of more than 5,000 people to join an 150-member NASA Tweetup. Emotions ran high, she said, as onlookers recognized that astronauts were setting foot on the launch pad for the final time. Although Obama increased NASA’s overall budget, the shuttle program’s termination has many unsure about the future. More than 23,000 jobs at and around Kennedy Space Center will be lost, according to projections obtained by Florida Today. “There’s still a lot of apprehension about what’s going on,” Bean said. “No one really knows what’s next.” Uncertainty was a common theme for Atlantis’ launch.

Initial weather difficulties set liftoff chances at 30 percent. “I have to admit, this morning when I got up I had zero percent faith it would happen,” said Brian Blake, communication director for College Station’s Texas Engineering Extension Service. Blake arrived at the launch site around 4 a.m. and was eventually joined by 2,700 other members of the media. Cheers erupted during the event, he said, but the mood was more somber than previous launches he had attended. “I think it’s going to have a tremendous affect on the morale of the workforce,” he said. “The second wave will be a real sadness over the [neighboring] communities. There are several layers we haven’t even explored that will be affected by this.” Despite some negative overtones, Blake said he still basked in the moment. “You see it on TV, but it’s a

different experience in person,” Blake said. “It’s physical. You can feel it in your body.” Magda Lagoudas, director of student services and academic programs at A&M’s school of engineering, said she’s confident in NASA’s ability to move forward. “I still believe NASA will find a way to come back and focus on something this country needs,” she said. Director of A&M’s Space Engineering Institute from 2006 until 2010, Lagoudas has guided students while they worked directly with NASA engineers. Previous projects have included testing colloidal materials for use in satellites and beaming solar power from satellites to Earth. Aggies are currently working on a program which recycles urine into drinking water. It is on board Atlantis. The steady growth of the private and commercial aeronautics industry, along with

governmental agencies such as the air force and navy, will help engineering students fair well in the job market, Lagoudas said. “I don’t expect space exploration to stop,” she said. “For people interested, I think there is still a future.” Thomas Strganac agrees that our final frontier exploration days are far from over. Having worked at NASA from 1975 to 1989 before joining the ranks of A&M’s aerospace engineering program, as a professor he believes interest in space will continue to grow. “As a department, we still have very active interests in aeronautics,” he said. “Space is one thing that drives them.” Strganac said that shuttles had a limited shelf life and discarding the program will allow NASA to focus on new technologies and goals, such as Mars exploration. “We knew we were going to have to go through a revolution,” he said.

Continued from A1 topher Ferguson told launch director Mike Leinbach just before liftoff. Atlantis’ crew will dock with the International Space Station on Sunday, deliver a year’s worth of critical supplies to the orbiting outpost, and bring the trash home. The shuttle is scheduled to land back on Earth on July 20 after 12 days in orbit, though the flight is likely to be extended to a 13th day. After Atlantis’ return, it will be lights out for the shuttle program. Thousands of workers will be laid off within days. The spaceship will become a museum piece like the two other surviving shuttles, Discovery and Endeavour. And NASA will leave the business of building and flying rockets to private compa-

nies while it turns its attention to sending humans to an asteroid by about 2025 and Mars a decade after that. It will be at least three years — possibly five or more — before astronauts are launched again from U.S. soil. Leinbach said that as Atlantis disappeared in the clouds, he and a friend in the control center put their arms around each other and said: “We’ll never see that again.” Inside the room, “it seemed like we didn’t want to leave,” Leinbach said. “It was like the end of a party, and you just don’t want to go, you just want to hang around a little bit longer and relish our friends and what we’ve accomplished. So it was very special, lots of pats on the back today.”

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