The Last Shuttle Flight

If you’re into astronomy, then you’d probably rather be observing than reading. Of course, observing opportunities aren’t always available, so maybe this entry will console you and touch your memory of our past manned spaceflight glory. I’m speaking to the glorious Space Shuttle era, where we routinely sent astronauts up into space to do all manner of adventurous things.

I, like many of you I imagine, contracted my love of astronomy long before the shuttle era. But it was sure a spark plug to my astronomical delight. I caught the astronomy bug when I was in grade school.

Growing up in a small mid-western town, I used to occasionally sleep under the stars in our backyard with my older brother when he was home from college for the summer. He would tell me fascinating tidbits that he’d learned in school about the universe. From our little un-polluted town, we could easily see the Milky Way, and now and again awesome views of meteors and the North Lights. From then on, I was hooked.

I started this blog to share some of that enthusiasm, and to hopefully ignite some feelings out there. I realized that I often enjoy others’ blogs about their star gazing and telescope modification exploits. When the weather isn’t cooperating, or when I get the bug during the day, or when I’m searching for some arcane bit of information about a specific telescope, eyepiece, or accessory, then I search the Internet and embroil myself in someone else’s celestial experiences.

I also tend to want to share my observing pleasures and occasional epiphanies with others. The problem is, I’m the only one in my family who enjoys the hobby. So, I’ve decided to list my exploits here, hopefully for the entertainment and maybe occasional enlightenment for those who are chronically smitten with the aperture fever affliction.

So one thing I want to share is an experience in the fall of September of 2012 that left a lasting impression. I happened to get a tip from my oldest son on September 20, 2012 that the space shuttle Endeavor’s final piggyback flight would take it over our small city.

I ran outside  a few minutes before the expected flyover, dragging my youngest son and spouse out with 3 pair of binoculars and a digital camera. I was ready to view and capture the event. It was an awesome sight as the big 747 carrying the Endeavor came ever closer to our city, flying low so that everyone would be able to see Endeavor’s last flight.

Shuttle Endeavor’s Last Flight

I zoomed in with my digital camera and started snapping pictures of the approach. As the 747 made its way past us, I ran to find a better position to watch the plane as it made its departure. It was then that I glanced at the camera settings and realized that I had the camera in a totally inappropriate configuration for this situation.

I quickly switched to the proper setting and started snapping pictures again. Alas, my stupid mistake cost me all of the approach pictures, but I did get some nice shots as the 747 and attached Endeavor moved beyond us. The image shown is my best effort. In some ways, I think catching the duo as they receded in the blue sky was the best way to capture the final journey.

Farewell Endeavor. I remember with mixed emotions the amazing triumphs and emotional tragedies. Like most all who were were alive at the time I suspect, I remember where I was and what I was doing when the Challenger and Columbia disasters occurred, and how deeply I was saddened on each occasions.

But I also remember the many inspirational flights, like the Hubble telescope repair missions and when Sally Ride took to space, and that helps lift me out of the despair of the calamities. I remember that NASA made a special shoulder patch for Sally’s flight. It said: “Ride Sally Ride.” We’ll have more triumphs in manned flight, but certainly with the loss of Sally Ride on July 23, 2012,  and the retirement of the space shuttle program, I certainly feel that we are at the end of an astonishing era.

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