All Good Things


One more time.

One last time.

At 11:26 EDT today, the space shuttle is scheduled to launch.

For the last time.

Please watch. Whatever you’re doing, stop. Turn on a TV, watch online, whatever. Just watch.

Because you’ll never see it again.

(For updates on the status of the launch, I recommend Spaceflight Now.)

Truth be told, I’m cheating a bit. I’m writing this post on Sunday before the launch, just to make sure it gets written and posted in time to remind people to watch. I’m a little emotional writing it. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel that day.

The other day, the last thing I wrote for NASA was published online, STS-135: Wheels Stop. I wanted that to be my last act there, my closure — to finish out the space shuttle program after writing about it for almost a third of the program. I believe that while NASA is going to go through a difficult transition, it does have a bright future ahead of it. But those will be someone else’s stories; someone else’s spacecraft. Mine, the one I first watched fly when I was five years old, has run the good race, and will soon finish the course.

I have had the good fortune of seeing all but two of the shuttle launches since the beginning of last year in person. The last one, STS-134, I drove down to see, but had to come back when it was delayed a couple of weeks. I ended up watching it on television. Launches always move me. It’s not unusual for me to have to stifle tears. But I was utterly unprepared for how hard that one hit me. I remember someone asking me a question while we were watching, and having to take a moment to compose myself before I could find my voice to answer.

There were a lot of reasons why. It was the first launch after I left the agency, and that had an impact. It was disappointing to watch it on TV after investing so much in trying to see it, and there was that, too.

But more than ever before, it hit me — this is the end.

It was the last launch of Endeavour. And the end of the program was now only one launch away.

I’ve known it was coming forever. I wrote about the impending end for years. But two things were different. When I started writing about it, there was a plan. We were going to retire the shuttle, and Constellation was going to take us to the moon. An end was coming, but something better was underway. Heck, a couple of years ago, I stood on the causeway and watched in person the first flight of that new era. But that Vision faded. And now, the future is a little more clouded.

The other thing that was different is that the end was no longer an eventuality, it was immediate. It is upon us. I was watching it unfold. The idea was one thing, the reality something else.

There is still a future. And it may be brighter than I dreamed that day two years ago. The Vision is no longer proprietary to the U.S. government, it now rests in the hands of visionaries. And that’s not a bad place for it. With any luck, I hope to continue to contribute to that future, working with those who want to bring it about now.

But today …

Today is still an ending. Take the time out of your schedule to participate in it, to share with the nation and the world a historic moment, to honor one of our country’s greatest achievements, one last time.

Beach Time


More catching up from the month or so I missed:

It’s all relative, you know?

Arguably, it wasn’t a great shuttle launch trip.

Heather and the boys and I rode down to Titusville late last month with our friends the Meeks to watch the launch of the STS-134 space shuttle mission.

And Endeavour decided not to launch.

We got as far as the NASA Causeway, where I was waiting in line at the souvenir stand hours before the scheduled launch when we got the word that there would be no launch that day.

We ended up having to stay the following day and into the next before we found out for sure that the launch would be delayed too long for us to stay.

And, yeah, there were a few moments where it was frustrating.

There was one in particular when I was dealing with the disappointment of the scrub, the uncertainty of what would happen with the schedule, the challenge of keeping boys entertained while we were waiting, balancing the needs and desires of the four of us, the couple we traveled with and the family we were staying with.

And I realized —

Back home, Huntsville was still dealing with the effects of the major storms that had just come through. Everyone was without electricity. People were worried about water. Businesses were closed. Figuring out how to eat was a challenge. The city was under curfew.

If we weren’t there for the scrub, we’d be dealing with that. Instead, we had a free place to stay in Florida, power, water, food, things to do and places to go.

It’s a sad state of affairs when you can feel sorry for yourself while you’re standing on a sunny beach.

I’m just grateful I was able to remember that perspective in time to enjoy the sun and sand.

Because it really was a nice beach.

Just Go!!


launch of discovery on sts-133

The final launch of space shuttle Discovery

You have two more chances.

The space shuttle Discovery is in space right now. She’ll be landing soon. And she’ll never fly again.

If you haven’t seen Discovery launch already, you never will.

The space shuttle Endeavour has one launch left. Currently, it’s scheduled for April 19.

If you haven’t seen Endeavour launch, and don’t go to the STS-134 mission launch, you’ll never see her, either.

The space shuttle Atlantis also has one launch left. Currently, it’s scheduled for June 28.

If you haven’t seen Atlantis launch, and don’t go to the STS-135 mission launch, you’ll never see her, either.

But, most importantly, if you’ve never seen a space shuttle launch, you only have two chances left.

And then, you’ve missed out forever.

To put in in a larger perspective, if you miss out on watching one of those two launches, you’ve not only missed out on seeing a space shuttle launch, you’ve most likely missed out on watching an American crewed space launch for years.

And when astronauts start launching from America again, they’ll fly on vehicles much less powerful than the shuttle. If you miss out on seeing one of the next two shuttle launches, you’ve missed out on seeing a vehicle that powerful launch for even more years.

And when America builds a new launch vehicle as powerful as the shuttle again, the plan is that it won’t carry astronauts. So if you miss out on seeing one of the next two shuttle launches, you’ve missed out on seeing a vehicle that powerful launch with astronauts onboard for … well … who knows? Very possibly your lifetime.

This is history.

And you have two chances left to see it.

Go.

Just go.

Whatever opposition is in your head right now, ask yourself, really, does it matter?

But ask it this way — twenty years from now, which am I going to want to talk about, going to see a shuttle launch, or whatever I did instead?

Maybe you’ll have to skimp financially in other areas to afford it. But, twenty years from now, are you more likely to tell people about seeing the shuttle, or the extra few times you ate at McDonald’s?

Maybe you’ll have to use vacation time you’d planned for something else. But, twenty years from now, which trip are you more likely to talk about?

Maybe you’re busy. What are you doing those days that you’re going to talk about twenty years later?

The launch schedule may change, but you can check the current planned dates here.

I’ve had so many people say they’re jealous of the launches that I’ve seen — four shuttles, two unmanned rockets.

But I’ve had no real advantage. I’ve paid for my trips, and I’ve taken time off. Seeing those six launches involved making nine trips to Florida.

I’ve seen those launches for one reason, and one reason only.

I went.

You have two chances left.

Go.

Just go.