Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Last of the Great Landings

Today, the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Edwards Air Force Base with the beauty and grace of a swan skimming over the surface of the water.

Back in the 1980’s when NASA’s Space Shuttle program was just beginning Edwards Air Force Base in California was the primary landing site, but over the years the primary landing site became the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA chose to land the shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base due to poor weather in Florida.

This may be one of the final landings at Edwards Air Force Base, as NASA plans to retire the space shuttle program in the coming years.

Landings at Edwards Air Force Base are always more visually appealing than those at the Kennedy Space Center. The sand-brownish-gray backdrop of the hills and terrain make the famous white and black bird shuttles stand out and easier to spot.

And when you are cruising faster than the speed of sound, and appear as a giant red glowing ball of light from the outer edges of our atmosphere, anything that makes it easier to spot is a good thing.

Although these landings have become somewhat routine for NASA, they are still amazing to watch. And amazingly accurate. We often joke about rocket scientists, but they are always on the ball – they have to be when bringing home seven astronauts from the depths of space.

NASA’s timetable for the Shuttle Atlantis’ landing was 11:39am EST – and exactly at 11:39am EST the primary rear landing gear of the spacecraft rolled onto the runway. Pretty amazing when you think the shuttle is a 226,040-pound vehicle, traveling over 300-miles per hour at touchdown.

I am going to miss watching these, once the shuttles have been retired. Watching the small silhouette of a white speck as it gets larger and the shape becomes more defined to resemble the shuttle. Seeing the shuttle float back to our home, planet Earth, then eventually raise its nose, drop its landing gear, as the familiar voice of mission control says: “We have primary landing gear touchdown, touchdown of the space shuttle Atlantis.”

The shuttle space craft have done wonderful things over the years, progressing the knowledge of our universe. They have brought people back and forth from the International Space Station, conducted numerous experiments in space, and as with the conclusion of today’s mission, repaired telescopes to give us a watchful eye above.

NASA is replacing the aging shuttle fleet with new rockets, which will blast off much like the original rockets which carried Neil Armstrong to the moon – but naturally far more advanced.

This was the 53 space shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

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