Spending time near any of the threee orbiters of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet is a special treat for just about anyone, but it is most especially so for an aspiring space journalist. It was only as the Space Shuttle program was winding down that NASA really ‘opened up the doors’ of Kennedy Space Center to members of the media and offered us a level of access that only a select few had been privileged to enjoy in the past decades. To be fair to NASA though, the number of media seeking access to the Shuttle program in recent years was a fairly small figure up until the final two launches of the program.
I’ve been a fan of the STS program since the very first launch, but it was not until STS-124 that I actually saw a launch in person. I had moved to South Florida in early 2007 and finally made it up to the Space Coast to see an on-time launch on May 31, 2008. It just so happened to be Discovery was the orbiter which launched into a beautiful blue sky shortly after 5 p.m. that day. I watched the launch from the riverbank along U.S. Highway 1 in Titusville, a position approximately 13 miles away from Pad 39A but still a majestic view, followed a minute later by the thundering roar of the five rocket engines.
Needless to say I was hooked. In all I would witness six Shuttle launches, three landings, two towbacks, two lift and mates inside the VAB, and even be among the lucky few allowed to crawl around the interior of Discovery (and months later Endeavour as well). It was a journey of which dreams of both a child and an adult were realized. And hopefully there will be many more dreams to be lived in the near future as commercial space and SLS both thunder off the two historic launch pads of Kennedy Space Center once again.
With Discovery having completed her final flight from KSC – her home of nearly three decades – to the the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia where she has become a permanent exhibit at the annex to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., now seems like a good time to take a look back at Discovery as an operational spacecraft. Following along up close as the ‘Workhorses of Space’ flew on their final missions was a privilege I will always fondly remember.