Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Final Shuttle This, Final Shuttle That


Final Final Final! I'm getting pretty sick of that word, but still can't seem to tear myself away from NASA television anytime I have a decent WiFi connection.

Yester eve, I stopped on my cross-country road trip to tune into NASA television and watch the closing ceremonies of the final Shuttle un-docking. After being attached to the ISS for 7 days for the unloading its 9,400 pounds of cargo from the Raffaello module and subsequent packing of other items for return to Earth, the unberthing commenced.

The all-American, all-spaceflown-veteran crew of STS-135 discussed the unique and historical nature of the mission, whereby the population of the ISS dropped from 10 to 6 again as the STS-135 folks thanked their orbiting hosts and departed.

Space Shuttle Atlantis
A pivotal moment in manned spaceflight, and in human history, to be sure. Currently, the last shuttle landing is due at Cape Canaveral, when Atlantis will touch down at 5:47 Eastern time, early tomorrow morning (Thursday, June 21st). Be sure to watch on NASA TV if you're up!

Astronaut Mike Fossum showed a small model of the space shuttle brought to the station by Atlantis, and that will now stay on the ISS. Astronaut Sandy Magnus snapped many pictures as the Expedition 28 crew bid everyone farewell, but the real kicker happened just before all the hugging started.

Expedition 28
Turns out, STS-135 was carrying a small American flag which had flown on STS-1 back in 1981, saying that it "represented our national pride and honor." They left the flag on Node 2, also known as Harmony, saying that it will remain there until the next astronaut on an American-made craft docks to retrieve it. Wow.

Certainly we all have high hopes for budget changes or commercial companies to fill the gap, but so many unknowns remain; the flag being left behind with that sort of open-ended question was terribly moving, and I found myself crying even more during this broadcast than the launch itself.

Shuttle Un-Docking
So gratifying to see American, Russian and Japanese crew members all embracing one another, wishing each other well on their various mission objectives. It's amazing how far we have come in terms of human relations in our space efforts, so let's hope we can get back on track now with hardware and construction concerns!

Anyone can review the mission milestones at the NASA multimedia gallery for STS-135, including the final Shuttle wake-up songs, President Obama's call, education talks to schools, EVAs, flight day recaps and various shuttle program tributes. Have Kleenex handy.