On July 8, 2011 a bitter sweet day for our country was noted. That day was the launch of the last US manned space flight for the foreseeable future. I had the honor and the privilege of attending the final launch in Mission Control as a guest of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) through Walter Ulrich, CEO of the Houston Technology Center. For the days leading up to the launch I was as anxious as a kid before Christmas. I can remember growing up a young boy in the 60s watching the Mercury and Gemini space flights on our Black & White TVs with rabbit ears (For those of you who don’t know what that is, ask your grandparents). In 1968, my folks bought a Color TV by Motorola and we had a TV antenna attached to the house so we could watch the Apollo missions, including the moon landings. I watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon, and I don’t think I slept a wink the remainder of 1969.
Reflecting back to that time, as a young boy I was amazed and in awe at our accomplishments. I had seen many times the famous speech by President John F. Kennedy and additional speeches by Presidents Johnson and Nixon all throughout the space missions. I would have done anything to get a job so I would could work at JSC or the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) as it was called in those days.
Our day at JSC will full of excitement and anticipation. I took dozens of pictures (see below – they wouldn’t let us use a flash so they’re a little grainy), received a briefing from Astronaut Stanley Love and watch the happenings of Mission Control, the Launch Pad at the Kennedy Space Center and watched the on-screen monitors in Mission Control. The launch counted down, we had a three minute hold to address a system query, and it was cleared! On with the countdown! 30 seconds, 15 seconds, 6 seconds main engine start, 3-2-1 and lift off of STS 135 and the Space Shuttle Atlantis! Wow it was so cool, and I saw it with my own eyes. An event I will treasure the rest of my life.
Now the future of US participation and involvement in manned space flight is uncertain. At a recent symposium of the Space Foundation, former NASA Administrator and Astronaut Richard Truly was asked about NASA’s space program. His reply was, “If you can tell me what it is, I’ll be happy to comment on it.” Without getting into all kinds of political comments and observations, I would like to ask each of you to get a copy of the special sections the Houston Chronicle ran on the final shuttle mission called “Above & Beyond”. In particular, I call your attention to an interview in that special section of NBC News Correspondent Jay Barbee by Chronicle reporter Mike Tolson. Mr. Barbee has had the honor of covering EVERY launch involving a US manned spacecraft since the first in 1961. His observations and thoughts on this issue are a must read.
As a close, I leave you with the following query, “If President John F. Kennedy was still alive today, what would he say about the current direction of the United States exploration of space?” How do you feel about your answer?
My wife, Suzie, Astronaut Stan Love, and Me
Walter Ulrich, CEO HTC; Stanley Love, Astronaut, flew on STS 122; and Downey Bridgewater, CEO Sterling Bank
Me, at Mission Control
Getting ready for launch