The Last Shuttle Launch

If it wasn’t clear, I didn’t take this picture.

Reading this week:

  • The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

I saw the last launch of the Space Shuttle! Not recently of course. Avid fans of space will know that the last time a Space Shuttle was launched was back in 2011. Astute readers of this blog will also know that I have been in New Haven recently because of grad school, and haven’t gone anywhere at all because we’re not supposed to leave New Haven. That has left me with a dearth of things to write about (my super amazing girlfriend (hi!) suggested I write about cats, a suggestion I callously tossed to the wayside, though maybe I could have combined these topics), so I think I will dig through the unpublished annals of my personal history to come up with some things to write about. Thus, today, I am talking about the last Shuttle launch.

To set the scene, it was way back in the halcyon days of 2011. I had, just that May, graduated from the Naval Academy. Upon graduating the Naval Academy, the Navy guarantees you, after your four years of hard work, 30 days of leave. This is nice! There was some special name for it. Guaranteed leave or comp time or something. The name is bugging me. Some people, like the very eager newly-minted Marine 2nd LTs, decided to forgo this leave and jump right into training. Not I! No siree, I took that leave. Plus Nuke School didn’t start until like September anyways. I spent some of that summer in a stash job (the Navy needs to justify your paycheck or whatever, so they “stash” you in a job somewhere) at an officer recruiting office which was both low-stress and illuminating, but for my big vacation I decided to uh, go big. Specifically, I decided to go to Brazil so I could see the Amazon rainforest before it all disappeared.

I did not watch the last launch of the Space Shuttle from Brazil. I watched it from the Kennedy Space Center, which is where they launched Space Shuttles from, but you see it was all part of the same trip, which is why I bring it up, and also some foreshadowing that the next couple of weeks probably will be about Brazil, or what I can glean from the pictures, at any rate. Anyways! I think this was my grandma’s idea (she lives in Florida), or else my aunt and uncle’s idea, who are the kinds of hip and cool people that would come up with the sort of idea to go see the last launch of the Space Shuttle. I was rather excited at the prospect of seeing a Space Shuttle launch. I, being at times uncreative in my youthful interests, used to be a big fan of space, and had even gone to Space Camp when I was younger. And since this was gonna be the last chance to see one, it seemed like a cool thing to do.

I had nothing to do with the planning of this portion of the trip, and was therefore carried along somewhat bewildered at it all, the same way I imagine the various animals they’ve sent to space must feel. The crowd for the launch included my grandma, my dad (who was coming to Brazil with me), my aunt (the three people just mentioned are pictured above), my uncle, and myself (neither of us pictured above). Apparently, to see a Space Shuttle launch, you show up very early, which is why it is dark in the above picture, which depicts us showing up very early. We set up chairs and a blanket to claim our spot on the lawn of the Kennedy Space Center, and fell asleep again.

By later in the day it had become much more crowded. To justify the ticket price, I suppose, NASA put on a whole morning of events for us to watch. They hauled out some astronauts that weren’t flying that day to talk to us about like, space and stuff, and a jumbotron that displayed interesting facts and stuff. One thing I remember being particularly perplexed about was them droning on and on about how impressive the commander of the Shuttle mission, Christopher Ferguson, was, specifically due to all the time he had spent in space (if I’m doing some math right from his Wikipedia profile, 27 days). Meanwhile, they were like, oh yeah and Sandra Magnus is flying too. This is perplexing because Dr. Magnus there, due to a stint on the International Space Station, had spent (again if I am doing some math right) 143 days in space!!!!! A friend of mine tried to argue that ISS time was less impressive than Space Shuttle time, but I’m Team Magnus all the way.

There was some tension that morning because there was a chance that the Shuttle might not go to space that day, which I suppose is always a chance when it comes to these things. Those coy people at NASA also like to amp up the suspense by pausing the countdown at various intervals. But eventually, the Space Shuttle launched! That was really cool! It looked like this:

Please admire the guy closest to the camera, who is my dad, praising the Space Shuttle as the super cool thing it is (as an aside, during nuke school, they tried to emphasize how smart and stuff we were by saying that nuclear submarines were the most complicated machines on the planet, except, they admit in a touch of modesty, the Space Shuttle). I know that picture isn’t very illuminating, so I prepared a closeup:

So that was super neat! As you have gleaned from the pictures, we weren’t particularly close, so the noise wasn’t particularly Earth-shattering or anything, but it was pretty cool! And now I can say I saw it. Having been at the Kennedy Space Center since the wee hours of the morning, at this point we went and saw the rest of it. I had been before (both during Space Camp and like, other times), but rockets are always cool, and especially cool that day was an exhibit they had on Star Trek (the original/best series), which included several sets you could take pictures with. I am a particular fan of the below picture, because it looks like I am in charge of the Enterprise, but my crew has all been turned into children, a fate I was spared from by being on an opportune vacation:

So that was seeing the last launch of the Space Shuttle! Highly recommend, though that’s not a very useful recommendation. Please come back next week, when I will (probably) write about going to Brazil!