On a cool dark night the Aeroseums team gathered along with 40+ other lucky invites to witness history, the final touchdown of a Space Shuttle. We had been selected as part of NASA PR’s new program called a NASA TweetUp. This event selected 50 people randomly from applications submitted over the social networking service Twitter. The people selected where from all walks of life; educators, IT, bloggers, engineers, and so on. We all shared one thing in common, an excitement about space.
After a long set of flights from Appleton (KATW) to Orlando (KMCO) then a drive to the space coast we hit out hotel only long enough for a short nap and get the electronics ready. Next up was short drive to the PR office at Kennedy Space Center, a long wait hanging out with some cool space junkies and the bus ride out to the landing site. All in all about 3 hours of waiting and constantly thinking and reminiscing about the Space Shuttle program then knowing that very shortly we would be present at a moment in history.
Upon exiting the bus at the landing site we saw the bleachers, the timer (counting up from moment of launch), the control tower, and recovery vehicles. We found a spot near the front of the standing crowd since the bleachers where already full, later we realized they did have the better seats. As the moment got closer the energy of the crowd started to grow. You could hear the announcer address each milestone of the Shuttle Atlantis. Then overhead we saw the International Space Station (ISS), a bright star moving across the night sky. Minutes later Atlantis announced her arrival over Florida, two powerful sonic booms where felt, not just heard. This was our first experience of a sonic boom, being from the Midwest (WI and IL) we do not hear these, well, ever. Knowing that Atlantis was some where near the crowd struggled against the darkness to see if they could see the black under belly of the shuttle, maybe catching it as it passed in front of stars or anything.
Minutes later there she was, heading right toward the runway, touching down just out of site due to a line of trees. Seconds later Atlantis passed that line of trees and going directly in front of us then stopping a good length down the runway. But there she was, Atlantis, just back from space and the ISS. You could hear the auxiliary power unit system running, you could see and hear the recovery trucks start to move. Then it hit… the feeling that it is all over, that WE just saw the last Space Shuttle land EVER.
Looking back at the time, cost, and frustration that the last landing was done in the dark, thus preventing most all photography, was going there worth it? Simply put YES. I highly recommend taking part in NASA TweetUps, they are well organized and give you access that few others can get. We can rarely pick and choose when we can attend a historical event, if you ever have the opportunity to know ahead of time jump on it.