The Last Space Shuttle Mission

Posted on Mon, August 8, 2011

I was thrilled to be a part of the NASA Tweetup for STS-135 July 7 and 8 at Kennedy Space Center. It was exciting — and almost surreal — to be there for the end of the space program that my generation grew up with. We weren’t around for the Moon landings, but we all remember the first time the space shuttle “took off like a rocket and landed like a plane.”

Space Shuttle Atlantis

July 8, 2011: Atlantis launches on the final space shuttle mission, STS-135.

NASA holds “tweetups”  — gatherings of people who use the social networking site Twitter — as part of their outreach strategy to raise awareness for the agency’s programs. It is a great opportunity to meet 150 people who care deeply about the space program, are eager to help spread the word and especially want to share the excitement of space exploration.

On July 8 we got to the press site before sunrise and anxiously waited, along with hundreds of reporters from all over the world, to hear if Atlantis was “go for launch.” Most people were not optimistic.  And then the sky cleared and we hardly had time to realize that this was it: the final launch was about to happen and we were there to see it. As if in a movie, there even was the additional excitement of countdown stopping a few seconds before launch.

I took many pictures and tweeted as much as I could, but no words or images can convey the launch experience: the blinding light, the noise so loud you feel it in your chest and the incredible pride that we were able to build a rocket that can take humans safely to space!

Eric Sloane Mural in Golden Age of Flight

Artist Eric Sloane painted a mural in the Golden Age of Flight exhibition that is now hidden behind the main wall.

It was a bittersweet moment, the program is ending and we're all waiting to hear what comes next. We are fortunate here at the Museum, because we will be a part of the orbiters’ next mission: to inspire future generations of space explorers. When Discovery comes to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center next year it isn’t really retiring; it's changing careers, from space explorer to science educator.

I was incredibly lucky to have a front-row seat to this historic event. I was surprised by how people reacted to my tweets, the questions they asked and how happy they were to share the experience with me. The best reply came from my friend @VaneGill11: I felt as if I was reading a paragraph of history being written sentence by sentence.

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