STS-1: 30 Years Ago Today


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From “Bold They Rise” by David Hitt and Heather R. Smith, forthcoming the University of Nebraska Press:

“Before we did STS-1, there had been some, I guess, things going on in the States,” (said Bob Crippen, the pilot of the first space shuttle flight.) “The morale of the United States, I don’t think, was very high. We’d essentially lost the Vietnam War. We had the hostages held in Iran. The President had just been shot. I think people were wondering whether we could do anything right. [STS-1] was truly a morale booster for the United States, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was welcomed by what I would call our allies abroad. So it was obvious that it was a big deal. It was a big deal to the military in the United States, because we planned to use the vehicle to fly military payloads. So it was something that was important. I feel, still feel, that the Space Shuttle is important. I don’t know that I had to impress that on any of my crews. I think they saw it for themselves, that what they were doing was important work that needed to be done.”

Crippen said that STS-1, and human spaceflight, provided a positive rallying point for the American people at the time, and that human space exploration continues to have that effect for many today. “A great many of the people in the United States still believe in the space program. Some think it’s too expensive. Perspective-wise, it’s not that expensive, but I believe that most of the people that have come in contact with the space program come away with a very positive feeling. Sometimes if they have only seen it on TV, maybe they don’t really understand it, and there are some negative vibes out there from some individuals, but most people, certainly the majority, I think, think that we’re doing something right, and it’s something that we should be doing, something that’s for the future, something that’s for the future of the United States and mankind.”

“My Radio Tuned to the Voice of a Star”


Heather talked to the space station Friday.

It was cool.

For those who don’t know, she’s been writing an official NASA blog for a while now.

So way back when, I suggested we should try to set up a downlink for her to talk to the International Space Station as material for her blog.

Downlinks aren’t necessarily that easy to get, but, I figured, if I could get one msyelf years ago, it wouldn’t hurt to try again for her.

Our friends from the education wing of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center in Houston delivered, big time.

Not only did she get a downlink, she got a downlink while the space shuttle was docked with the space station.

i did my downlink back in 2004. I talked to the entire crew of the space station at the time — two people. U.S. astronaut Mike Foale, who was becoming the first American to spend a year in space, and Russian cosmonaut Sasha Kaleri.

Heather talked to eight people — the entire crew of Discovery, and both U.S. members of the space station crew.

I’m not jealous. Foale and Kaleri were both very interesting, and I had a great conversation with them. Plus, coincidentally, Sasha’s in space again right now. He talked to me on my downlink. He didn’t talk to Heather. We can tell who he likes better.

But that meant every U.S. astronaut in orbit Friday morning was participating in the downlink. The entire focus of America’s human spaceflight program for 25 minutes last week was talking to Heather. That’s kinda cool, too.

(Of course, I guess that was not only true of mine, but I was the focus of all the world’s human space complement. It seems less impressive when it’s just two people, though.)

Preparing for the downlink was a lot of fun. One of the goals of the downlink was to get student involvement, which we did, peaking with having two Marshall interns each ask a question of the astronauts.

But we also had to write several of the questions ourselves, and that was a neat opportunity. I’ve done a downlink before, we’ve both watched several other downlinks, and we’ve done astronaut interviews. We heard all the standard questions and all the standard answers, and challenged ourselves to come up with something different, to get the crews to give us something different.

I think we did a good job of coming up with questions, and I think the crew did a great job of coming up with answers.

The downlink took place in the Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall, essentially the “mission control” for space station science. If there’s something going on with vehicle or crew operations, the astronauts talk to Houston. If they’re talking about science, they’re talking to Huntsville.

It’s a cool room, with the flags of ISS participant nations on the ceiling and patches of supported missions on the wall and console stations with easily a dozen monitors. It was a great setting for the downlink, and it was an honor to be allowed in. (I did mine in a small supply room in the building I worked in. Totally not jealous about that, either.)

It was rewarding seeing the flight controllers enjoying the downlink. One said that in 11 years of watching them, this was the best she’d seen.

Heather did a great job. She was nervous beforehand, but, of course, handled it perfectly.

I suggested the downlink originally in part because I thought it would make for good blog content, but mainly because I wanted Heather to have that experience. I believe firmly in the value of doing things; I believe that hands-on experience gives you an insight and investment that you don’t get other ways.

I was glad she got this opportunity, and proud of what she did with it.

I got to help, too. I was the coordinating line. I stayed on the phone from an hour before the downlink until after it was over, communicating with the folks in Houston that were making the connection, and letting Heather know what was going on. When the downlink was extended three minutes before it was to end, I got to let her know that. (For my downlink, I had to manage both lines myself, with Houston on my cell phone on one ear and ISS on the landline on my other ear. Still not jealous.)

Going to the launch last week also enhanced the experience — Heather was talking to astronauts that she had just seen blast into space in person eight days ago.

It also meant that Caden, her five-year-old who was fascinated by the launch, was sufficiently interested to spend half an hour at 6 in the morning watching astronaut talk to his mom on television. (How many kids can say that? [On a personal note, it amused me that I now can say I have the clout to arrange for the space station to call my girlfriend. How many guys can claim that?])

Caden knew about the downlink, but wasn’t thinking about it earlier last week when he saw an airplane contrail and said, “I think that’s the space shuttle coming back to land.” I told Heather to remind him that the shuttle couldn’t come home until after they talked to her. I think he now thinks his mom has to give the shuttle permission to land. He has an interesting view of what she and I do.

Landing is scheduled for Wednesday. And they have Heather’s permission to come home.

Photos by Emmett Given of NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center.

A Shuttle-Launch First — Seconds!


Back in November, I spent about a week in Florida. Waiting for the space shuttle Discovery to not launch on its STS-133 mission.

Going down there for a launch and coming back without seeing it was not a first for me.

This week will be.

I’m going back down this week with Heather and the boys to try once again to watch the launch of STS-133.

I’ve been down to Florida for shuttle launches six times now.

I’ve seen three launches.

I’ve seen three scrubs.

I’ve never been back down to watch one launch that I also watched scrub. This week will be my first time making a second attempt to watch a particular mission launch. Obviously, I’m hoping this trip is more successful than the last.

We hadn’t been planning on trying again for this mission, so soon after our last trip down, but Heather was offered the opportunity to go down to the launch on a work trip, so all four of us are driving down there.

I’m really hoping it goes this time, so that she and the boys get to see it. As we finished up the book, Caden in particular took a real interest in the shuttle, and started talking recently about wanting to go try to see one again. (“Even if we don’t go to Disney this time,” he offered.) On the plus side, it will probably mean more to him this time than it would have in November. And, of course, Heather, having now co-authored a book about the shuttle, really out to see one launch.

So, wish us luck. Should be an interesting trip.

Happy Birthday, Heather!


Happy birthday, Heather!

May today bring you happiness, fun times with friends and family, a great reminder of how special you are, and maybe a cool present or two!

May the coming year of your life be an amazing one, and may your Father bless you in cool and creative ways that you could never imagine today! I hope the next year of your life is one you can look back on a year from now as an incredible journey of adventure, blessing and growth!

Thanks for letting me be a part of that journey! Love you!

My Gift To David (via Calluna)


When I wrote about a month ago about getting a preview of the upcoming Lori McKenna album, I mentioned that it was setting the bar high for the Christmas season. Heather took that challenge, and came back with a gift that was a definite Christmas highlight for me — that perfect combination of something that’s a great item in and of itself, but that also involved a lot of thought and time and effort and showed that she knows me and cares.

My Gift To David David introduced me to Lori McKenna music Feb. 25, 2008. At least that’s the date I added to my iTunes “Heather Stuff,” a CD of music David gave to me. On the CD were the first four Lori McKenna songs I ever heard: Witness to Your Life, What’s One More Time, Your Next Lover and Unglamorous. I had actually heard Lori before on Oprah when she performed Fireflies, which she wrote, with Faith Hill, who recorded it. But I didn’t know she wrote more or … Read More

via Calluna

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