The Space Shuttle doesn’t have to answer to the FAA regarding on-time takeoffs and landings. That is a good thing. Discovery wasn’t in the mood to launch the first week of November despite the presence of media and more than 100 members of social media site twitter attending an up-close and personal look at NASA.Twitter users from all over the United States and from as far away as Australia came into town hoping to see a launch. While I was a privileged guest for this tweetup, I was romping around the Kennedy Space Center grounds as an accredited member of the media and had the pleasure of spending a fair amount of time with the tweetup attendees and space workers during evening socials.
Discovery was set to launch the first of November. The STS-133 mission was to be her swan song before entering retirement eventually becoming a museum display – most likely at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. However, the workhorse of the Space Shuttle fleet had another plan in mind and despite putting on a brilliant display at the launch pad, she forced NASA to scrub for the early November launch window. The External Tank suffered cracks among its outer support stringers and also was leaking liquid nitrogen during fueling. With no chance to diagnose the issues and make repairs in time, the launch was delayed until at least the end of November.
Despite all that, it was not a lost week. Besides the socializing with many space geeks such as myself, I finally got to watch the Hubble IMAX 3D film at the Visitor Center. I finally visited the Astronaut Hall of Fame as well as the U.S. Space Walk Hall of Fame and similarly named park in Titusville. I roamed around the KSC Visitor Center, especially the ever shiny Rocket Park, and watched a portion of Star Trek Live (complete disappointment from what I was expecting). Oh yeah, there was the time spent at the press site right across from the mammoth VAB. The post-scrub NASA press conference I attended.
And of course, there was the journey out to Launch Pad 39-A for the rollback of the Rotating Service Structure away from Discovery and her accompanying rocket stack. The media was taken out via three buses a short while before sunset. However, as night began to fall, the RSS was postponed due to the threat of lightning and we returned to the press site. Moments later though, the lightning warning was lifted and back out to the launch pad we went. We were allowed to set up our cameras less than 1,500 feet away from the historic launch pad. Adding icing to the cake, we got to walk on the rock pathway which is used by the huge crawlers to deliver the shuttle stack to the launch pad. The same crawlers and pathway also were used to deliver the Saturn V rockets to the launch pad for the Apollo moon missions. To say I felt like a giddy little kid seeing the crawler tracks imprinted on the pathway and being able to pick up and hold the gravel rocks in my hand … well that would be a huge understatement. Of course that was just the appetizer to the evening’s festivities as the RSS rollback soon began and we got to watch in awe as the shuttle was revealed to us and lit up by the Xenon spotlights. I took many, many photos. And that might actually be an understatement.
A number of my photos from the final mission of each of Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis are now available for purchase as prints. You can see the entire selection and have your favorites printed on your choice of professional photo paper at www.ShuttlePhotos.com. I highly recommend selecting the Endura metallic paper. Endura’s slightly three dimensional appearance and bright sheen really highlights the Space Shuttle.