- Posted April 20, 2012 by
Cape Canaveral, Florida
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Space to Smithsonian: The shuttle's final journey
Space Shuttle Discovery's final farewell
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
Shuttle Discovery atop a modified Boeing 747 approaching Kennedy Space Center for the very last time in a final farewell low pass salute
I have been fond of NASA and Space Shuttle program since introduced in 1981. As a 7 year old child, I quickly learned of the heroic acts of Astronauts and none stood out more than that of the Challenger disaster in 1986. Through the years I continued that fond admiration for the uniqueness of what the American Space program represents as I learned of its beginnings, its ups and downs, and most of all its innovations. As years passed I looked into the depths of the universe with Hubble, I watched as the first woman and the first African American launched aboard the Space Shuttle, and I watched how countries of the world looked past barriers as construction of the International Space Station began and ended with the Space Shuttle. What an idea; a spacecraft that can return to earth as a glider, land like a plane, and be reused as a rocket ship.
During these years a favorite Shuttle orbiter emerged for me, and that Orbiter was Discovery. As the workhorse; Discovery flew and completed some of the most important missions for NASA. On March 29, 2012 I was face to face with Discovery for the first time, as I entered the Vehicle Assembly Building and watched as Discovery stood proud on its lading gear awaiting its move to the Smithsonian. It was a touching but incredible moment to see Discovery up close but I understood why it stood there and understood why its final days at home were near.
Meeting Discovery again on the morning of April 17th at the Kennedy Space Center ’s, Shuttle Landing Facility; I first watched ironically enough, as the Hubble Space Telescope passed directly overhead seemingly being a reminder of how Discovery opened the world’s eyes to space and our solar system. I could only imagine the thoughts of Administrator Charlie Bolden, who piloted Discovery on a highly risky mission to deploy Hubble. I patiently waited and around 7am that morning Discovery emerged. For one last time Discovery was rolled through its 3 mile trek down the Shuttle Landing Facility and shortly after departed South across the Space coast. For one last time and with an incredible showcase of skill and nerve, the pilots of the modified Boeing 747 which Discovery was attached, flew a low pass flyby headed north on a final salute to the Kennedy Space Center.
The end of Shuttle program; although very sad, I believe it is necessary. For 30 years, there have been thousands of incredible people who worked hard to make the Shuttle program what it was, an nothing showcases that more than the two return to flight missions of Discovery during STS-26 and STS-114. Along with being relegated to low earth orbit, we should never forget that the Space Shuttle’s Achilles heel was its safety and nothing stands out more than the 14 lost hero’s who flew aboard Challenger and Columbia. We should also think about, that although some incredible accomplishments have been made during its time; it is natural human nature to explore beyond boundaries and nothing represents this better than when President John F. Kennedy announced humans will explore the Moon. History repeats itself and one must remember that between Apollo program and the Shuttle program American astronauts were not launched aboard a US spacecraft for approximately 6 years. Our Space program is not over…Here we are in an incredible transition from Shuttle to the SLS or Space Launch System which will carry Orion; a capsule design which we know works and a design that will not only be incredibly safer, but one that will take us to low earth orbit and onto the Moon, Mars and beyond. We have also done something unprecedented by inviting private contractors to develop new technologies and to bring new ideas to the table. This will not only invite a sense of competitiveness, but drive innovation. NASA has a multitude of missions currently and is well on their way paving the path to a new era in American Space flight. Although, saddened by the end of the Shuttle program, I am intensely excited for what is in store.