Watching Discovery's Final Landing

Final landing of the space shuttle Discovery, KSC, 3/09/11

Today the girls and I watched Discovery's landing. It was a sad, fascinating and anxiety-riddled experience for me. I was sad because as a girl I had wanted to go see the space shuttle launch or land and now there are only two more flights. Both take off from Kennedy Space Center and I don't see a Florida trip in our near future so I have to hope for a detour landing at Edwards Air Force Base. I've told the girls that if it lands there we will make the drive.

It was fascinating to watch the landing as an adult. I've always just sort of known there was a launch or landing by hearing about it on the radio (or the sonic boom if there is a California detour). We watched it on the NASA channel and the various replays including infrared were fun as well as seeing all that goes on with the ground crew. We watched for over 20 minutes after the landing and they had just cleared it for the work crews to approach. As much as the shuttles look like airplanes and land like them and at one point their flights seemed as routine it was a reminder that they aren't airplanes and this wasn't a flight from the other side of the planet.

What I hadn't realized before I turned the TV on, though, was that the last time I watched any part of a shuttle flight on TV was in 6th grade when our class assembled to watch Challenger and Christa McAuliffe begin their journey. We spent the rest of the day watching news coverage of the disaster and I still remember watching President Reagan's "'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of G-d,'" speech. It still makes me cry. I didn't watch the Columbia landing because it was Shabbat.

The fear of a similar accident happening, witnessing it and having to explain it to the girls kept my stomach clenched until Discovery was safely sitting on the ground awaiting the ground crew. I hadn't realized it would be like that and suppose it will be that way for Endeavor and Atlantis.

Endevour's targeted launch is April 19, 2011. Atlantis is June 28, 2011.

Photo credit: LOLren on Flickr.