24 Hours: No Sleep, 400 Miles, Gallons of Caffeine, Business Luncheon and the Final Space Shuttle Landing Ever

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STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis Mission Patch

STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis Mission Patch

BOOM-BOOM!

That amazing, gut-feeling sound will stay with me forever because it’s the last time I, and anyone else, will ever hear it. Thursday morning it was the sound of NASA’s Atlantis signalling her return home on the mission STS-135, the final space shuttle mission.

Oh, what a bittersweet day Thursday, July 21, was. Like the morning Endeavour returned on June 1, I heard the double sonic booms from my Port Charlotte, Fla., apartment but watched the landing on NASA TV (thanks to the iPhone). Thursday morning I watched Atlantis land and end an era of space exploration at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Can You See Atlantis in the Bottom Right? "The space shuttle pulls into port for the last time. It’s voyage, at an end."

Can You See Atlantis in the Bottom Right? “The space shuttle pulls into port for the last time. It’s voyage, at an end.”

Okay, I didn’t actually see Atlantis gliding in because it was dark and I was surrounded by taller people. Listening to NASA’s Capsule Communicator (capcom) Barry ‘Butch’ Wilmore narration piped in from Mission Control Center in Houston, I had some idea when she would arrive. As I learned earlier, the double sonic booms (caused by the wings and vertical tail breaking the speed of sound) indicate the shuttle is about three minutes away from landing.

Waiting and looking toward the giant white light shining over the runway, I heard what sounded like a quiet passenger jet descending. It wasn’t until I heard over the PA system that Atlantis, led by Commander Christopher Ferguson, had touched down. I looked toward the runway, which was about 600 feet in front of me, I saw the top of Atlantis race by with the red and white drag chute flying high, catching the wind and slowing the space shuttle down.

Crowd and Monitor at the Space Shuttle Landing Facility, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Crowd and Monitor at the Space Shuttle Landing Facility, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Just as with the double sonic booms, the crowd cheered with the safe landing and some, self included, shed a tear or two.

At 5:57 a.m., Atlantis’ returned marked the end of the 30-year space shuttle era. Capcom Wilmore said the following as she came to a halt one last time,

Having fired the imagination of a generation, the ship like no other its place in history secured. The space shuttle pulls into port for the last time. It’s voyage, at an end.

Beautiful words. I have audio from the morning (as it was too dark for video) but check out the space shuttle video on the NASA website.

How I Was Able to View the Final Space Shuttle Landing?

If you asked me last week what I had planned for Thursday, July 21, I’d say the usual. Awake at 6 a.m., followed by work, business luncheon, more work followed by boot camp.

NASA Tweetup Registration, Press Accredidation Building, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

NASA Tweetup Registration, Press Accredidation Building, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

An opportunity to attend the end of the space shuttle era appeared in my email box Tuesday evening when fellow travel blogger Eileen Ludwig of Freelance Tourist: Travel Tips, who was confirmed for the #NASATweetup for the Atlantis landing, sent an email saying confirmed attendees could possibly invite a guest and she asked if I was interested. Are you kidding???

Earlier in the day an attendee had Tweeted a question, asking if anyone wanted to attend the landing. I thought he was joking, turned out he wasn’t.

Beth Beck, NASA: Space Operations Outreach Manager, is One of the Fabulous People Who Makes NASA Tweetup Amazing!

Beth Beck, NASA: Space Operations Outreach Manager, is One of the Fabulous People Who Makes NASA Tweetup Amazing!

After 9 p.m. Tuesday, I checked my email after Tweeting with a confirmed landing guest and I literally gasped. I was confirmed to attend along with 49 other Twitterers.

What did this mean?

Short of it, it meant not attending the Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees game in Tampa the night prior. It meant asking for more time off from work. It meant 3.5 hours of sleep, seeing the landing, attending a business luncheon in Fort Myers, and driving just over 400 miles in one day.

NASA Tweetup Participants Listen to NASA Space Shuttle Specialist Chris, July 21, 2011

NASA Tweetup Participants Listen to NASA Space Shuttle Inspector Chris, July 21, 2011

Adrenaline, Red Bull, Coke Zero and a McDonald’s Caramel Frappe kept me in “go” mode on the road, although my Tweets and Facebook posts made little sense as the day progressed. When my head hit the pillow at 10 o’clock Thursday night, I had been awake since 9:30 the night prior. I closed my eyes and didn’t wake up until 5:30 the next morning when the cats demanded their breakfast.

Was the lack of sleep, time off work, extra miles on the car worth it? Oh, yeah!

NASA Tweetup Family

I’m honored to be part of the NASA Tweetup family and extremely grateful having the opportunity to attend the NASA Tweetup shuttle landing as a guest. End of the space shuttle era does not mean the end of space exploration and NASA. If you’d like to participate in a NASA Tweetup, visit their website to learn when registration opens for the next event.

Here’s a video I compiled with favorite Tweets from the day synched with the space shuttle’s touch down. If it doesn’t play view it here on YouTube.

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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