Space Shuttle: Wheels Stop

“In life, there are no ordinary moments. Most of us never really recognize the most significant moments of our lives when they’re happening.” — Kathleen Magee

One week ago today, STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis landed on Earth for the final time.

STS-135 Final Space Shuttle Landing Guest Button

STS-135 Final Space Shuttle Landing Guest Button.

Last Thursday, I left my Cocoa Beach hotel at 3:00 a.m. to head out to the Kennedy Space Center to meet the space tweeps who would share this historic moment STS-135 Landing Tweetup with us.

I’d never seen a Space Shuttle landing before. This would be my first…and last.

After checking in all our landing tweeps, we boarded the bus around 4:30 a.m. — Zero-Dark Thirty!!! We waited for news of STS-135 Atlantis in orbit. Only at Deorbit Burn could we head out to the landing strip.

Chris our KSC Escort wait for new of Atlantis' Deorbit Burn

Chris our KSC Escort waits for news of Atlantis' Deorbit Burn

Ah the anticipation. But still, it was really, REALLY early. Thankfully, some came well-equipped with Red Bull and Energy Drinks!!

Ching-Yao Yu @nutzareus pointing to Energy Drinks

@nutzareus pointing to @sharkb8t Energy Drinks

@sharkb8t is a zombie without her energy drinks

@sharkb8t is a zombie without her energy drinks!

Many of our friends showed up — some flat, some furry, some human: @CraftLass, @WoodToast, @MouthTheTribble, @Astro_Fuzz, @FlatSamantha, and Camilla_SDO

@CraftLass & her husband @WoodToast w/ space critters

@CraftLass & her husband @WoodToast w/ space critters.

We received news of Deorbit Burn! WooHoo! Our bus driver pulled out of the parking lot. We were on our way.

Space Tweeps on way to Final Space Shuttle Landing

Deorbit Burn means NASA Tweetup Bus is moving!

Not long into our journey, we slowed to a crawl in snarled “final landing” traffic. @WiredForFlight and @FlightSoft checked an iPad app to track our progress on the road.

@WiredForFlight @FlightSoft watching our progress in Landing Traffic

@WiredForFlight + @FlightSoft watching our progress in Landing Traffic.

Once we arrived, we headed to the viewing stands. I was hoping the sun would defy nature and rise early so we could see Atlantis drop from the skies. But no.  Still dark.

Shuttle Landing Tower

Shuttle Landing Tower

As we waited for Atlantis to land, the Expedition 28 crew onboard the International Space Station streaked across the sky at 17,500 mph. What an amazing treat to wave to @Astro_Ron Garan, Mike @Astro_Aggie Fossum and their crewmates 220 miles overhead.

Space Station crossed sky just before STS-135 landing.

Space Station crossed sky just before STS-135 landing.

Atlantis landed just a few minutes after Station crossed the sky. I expected to cry, but instead, I squealed and giggled. This was my first landing. It was more first than last to me. I felt incredibly giddy.

Tweet: Job Well Done America!

What a treat to be part of history!

We all boarded the bus again, and said goodbye back at the media badging building. @WinObs rode off into the sunrise on his bike, but before he left, he posed with @Camilla_SDO.

@WinObs post-landing w/ @Camilla_SDO

@Camilla_SDO gets around. Here she is with @WinObs.

I headed back to Cocoa Beach to check out of my hotel and grab breakfast with Madi Sengupta and Mary Lynne Dittmar. Next we¬†headed over to the launch pads of our past — Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury. The Apollo pad is well cared for. Gemini and Mercury, not so much. Walking among the ruins, I imagined ghosts of rocket boys with crew cuts and slide rulers who paved the way for the Space Shuttle generation.

Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury launch pads.

Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury launch pads.

One of the highlights of the day: attending the employee celebration with Atlantis post flight! Here is my first view of Atlantis, the star of the party.

Employees salute Atlantis, the final Space Shuttle.

Employees salute Atlantis, the final Space Shuttle.

Atlantis Post-Landing

Here she is: Atlantis!!!

Employees sign STS-135 banner.

Employees sign STS-135 banner.

My "mark" on history.

My "mark" on history.

Thank you Stephanie Schierholz for making the landing tweetup happen. What a glorious day. Sad because it’s the end. But what a wonderful 30 years we’ve had!

Time to head to the airport. On the way, I pulled over to take a picture of space melons. Only on the space coast…! ;)

Space Melons: only on the space coast.

Space Melons: only on the space coast.

On the flight home, the flight attendant read aloud a note someone gave him, recognizing the last Space Shuttle landing and the end of an era, as well as the NASA Administrator in the front row and other NASA employees on the flight. The passengers broke into applause. Tears streamed down my face. The end. It finally hit me.

8 Comments

Filed under Earth, federal government, NASA, space, tweet-up

8 responses to “Space Shuttle: Wheels Stop

  1. oz

    just left kscvc this weekend…shuttle launch and landing signs gone…very sad…

    • beth beck

      By the time I left for the airport on the day of landing, they had already covered the “Launch/Landing” signs at KSC. I wanted the “0 Days to Landing” pic. Really surprised me. And brought reality home.

  2. It still hasn’t hit me Beth. There have been moments for certain, but the finality of it still hasn’t fully sink into my consciousness quite yet. Anyway, I’m thrilled you finally got to witness a landing in person. It was long overdue and well deserved!

  3. Beautiful story Beth – thanks for sharing – especially that last bit.

  4. QuarkSpin

    Thanks for sharing with us, Beth! I was glad to see that they did indeed mark the wheels stop position for Atlantis on the runway. Among the many things that the Shuttle program has accomplished is inspire a generation of people to think “hey, I’d like to go to space” along with those who have thought “hey, I’d like to make that possible” and are now following through on it. What an exciting time to be living in!

    I remember that one of the things that they had us do as seniors in high school was to write down a life goal. Mine simply said “achieve Earth orbit.” Who knew that one day in my lifetime that would become (an achievable) part of our reality?

    Ad astra! – James

  5. beth beck

    I’m glad to be part of the space generation. I was in 7th grade when we walked on the Moon. I had just come into the house and my Daddy was glued to the TV, and had me watch with him. Who knew I would end up making “space” my career.

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