Up Close with Discovery

Up close with space shuttle Discovery. Image: Nancy Atkinson

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases, it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams ….
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth…”

—John Keats

I love that poem by John Keats, but if he had been able to see a space shuttle launch, he might have changed those last couple of lines to something like, “Every day, we labor so that humanity can soar out into the Cosmos.”

And that is what the technicians and specialists who work with the space shuttles at Kennedy Space Center do. Every day.

Last week, I had the chance to go ON launchpad 39A and see space shuttle Discovery up close, so close that I didn’t have to use full zoom on my camera to get the shot, above, of the orbiter’s cockpit area. Other journalists told me the press hadn’t been allowed that close to a shuttle on the pad for years, and so I feel particularly lucky to have had that opportunity. We weren’t told just how close the KSC PAO folks were going to take us, so as we drove closer and closer, we didn’t say a word — we just looked at each other with wide eyes and kept our mouths shut, hoping beyond hope that we’d get as far up on the pad as we did. Here are some more shots from that day:

Nancy on pad 39A with Discovery. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)

The shuttles truly are things of beauty, and having the opportunity to see two of the fleet up close — I saw Endeavour from just behind the fence in February and recently being directly on the pad with Discovery, their splendor is now imprinted indelibly on my mind. These orbiters have been a part of human spaceflight for nearly 30 years, and they will never “pass into nothingness,” — their history and stories will always be a major chapter in the legacy of our travels to space.

While everyone else is taking pictures, Nancy just stares in wonder. Image: Ken Kremer

It’s almost hard to believe that there are only four, possibly five shuttle flights remaining. Here on the Space Coast there have been lots of conversations about possible extensions to the shuttle program. I used to think it was time to move on to other vehicles and other destinations, and but now I’m not so sure. I don’t know if my thinking has changed because of the current uncertainty of the future of human spaceflight with Constellation potentially being canceled, or if just seeing a launch, viewing these magnificent orbiters up close and meeting some of the people who work daily with the shuttles has actually shifted my views.

There I said it. Deep down, I really want the space shuttles to keep flying. It just seems like they have a lot more life left in them.

Discovery, with the payload for STS-131 secured in the Rotating Service Structure. Image: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)

Thanks to Alan Walters and Ken Kremer for sharing their pictures


March 29, 2010 at 6:15 am


You can buy one for $31m, they even deliver. 😉
The business case says you only need 50,000 visitors per year at $45per head.

Common you know you want one …….LOL ;-P


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