by Times Special Reporter
The town of Titusville, FL played host to an estimated crowd of one million to view the final launch of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. Despite a slight delay at T-31 seconds to verify the retraction of the Oxygen Vent Arm, also called “Beanie Cap”. There was also a threatening weather forecast which included two lighting strikes to the launch tower that started talks about delaying the launch until Sunday. The Space Shuttle Atlantis would not be denied. With the International Space Station as it target, at 11:29 EST Atlantis roared off into history in the last space shuttle mission. Veteran reporters, astronauts and visitors all cheered loudly and chanted USA USA USA upon seeing the engine’s flames ignite, then hearing the roaring cracking sound of the booster rockets. Finally all felt the powerful energy as Atlantis cleared the tower. Over the loud speaker the words, “We have Lift-Off, Atlantis had cleared the Tower, Lift-off of the Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-135 ….” CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who attended the launch for the first time, could only utter the words, “Wow, – Amazing, that’s Awesome. There is nothing like being here to see a launch.” These words were echoed by first time on-lookers and seasoned locals.
Many people were cheering while tears streamed from their eyes. Comments like “This is what makes America great” and “I am so Proud to be an American” could be overheard from the crowd as the Atlantis raced across the sky down range and finally out of sight.
Space Shuttle Atlantis’ primary mission is to provide a logistic module and re-supply the International Space Station for an extended period of time.
Within 8 ½ minutes, Atlantis traveled 59 miles reaching a velocity of 17440 miles to hour, and will catch-up and dock with the International Space Station on Sunday. At the completion of its 12-day mission, Atlantis will land at Kennedy Space Center and become a permanent resident and exhibit on-site. After the landing, the entire Kennedy Space Center staff will be allowed to come onto the runway to be acknowledged for their 30 years of support and dedication to the NASA Space Shuttle program. The landing of Atlantis on July 20th will mark another celebrated NASA anniversary as well; the historic landing on the moon in 1969.
At the post launch press briefing at the KSC Media Center, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana spoke: “It truly was an awesome, spectacular launch.” Cabana is looking ahead to plans for future development beyond the shuttle program as space station operations continue, but for now this sight of a shuttle launch can only be viewed on film and from photographs.