On the morning of the Atlantis STS-135 launch, we were treated to a talk by four-time Shuttle vet Robert Crippen, who piloted STS-1, and commanded STS-7, STS-41C, and STS-41G (once on Columbia and thrice on Challenger). We media nerds had just settled back into the Tweetup tent after watching the Astrovan take the shuttle crew to the launch pad when he strolled in!
So, at a little after 8:30am in the morning, we were literally listening to the first Shuttle pilot speak right when the last Shuttle pilot was being strapped in for take-off! Quite chilling. Bob Crippen spoke for perhaps 30 minutes about his experiences with different orbiters and astronauts, garnering both laughter and tears from the crowd – and from himself, when he choked up a few times speaking about the end of the shuttle program.
"When the solid rockets light, you know they're headed
someplace… and you just hope it's in the right direction!"
Columbia STS-1 scrubbed once, and lifted off on the second attempt on April 12, 1981. This maiden flight of the most complex space craft built to-date was, of course, also the precise 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first space flight. In 37 orbits around the Earth, Bob Crippen and John Young performed thorough checks of all the shuttle systems, recorded the orbiters "stresses" and overall performance, and returned to Earth safely, proving the space-worthiness of a craft that would take us to LEO for the next three decades.
In his retrospective above, Bob also scored a few points with the ladies, as indicated by the cheers, for being all space-feministy. We appreciated the nod to Sally Ride (first American woman in space) and Kathryn Sullivan (first American woman to perform an EVA).
John Young and Bob Crippen in 1981
Interestingly, in a related six-degrees-of-separation kinda thing, I once interviewed a Hubble guru at NASA Goddard named Ed Rezac, who tested Bob Crippen's space suit gloves in 1980, prior to their first true christening on STS-1.
And on this same trip, after many moons on Facebook and email, Ed and I finally got to meet at the epic Endless BBQ in Florida! Social Media has truly made the world a much smaller place! So if you are a space fan, and you have not yet attended one of the NASA center media events or Tweetups, keep an eye on the @NASATWEETUP feed for when new ones are announced! You will be amazed at how they bring people together from all over the world, and all throughout the space industry!
Space Geeks Unite!