CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – They work tirelessly, behind the scenes, some work to ensure that the shuttle fleet is ready for the next mission; others work to ensure that the history is recorded and the shuttle program’s story is told. On Monday night one of their wards was rolled out to the launch pad for the final time.
Discovery began her final trip to the pad at 7:24 p.m. EDT. Along the 3.4 miles were many of the employees that have made the shuttle program possible along with their families. The time these folks have spent watching over Discovery vary from a few years to a couple decades and longer.
Stephanie Stilson, Discovery’s Flow Director has been working on OV-103 since 2000.
Everyone has been very professional, very focused so I try not to think about it being the last one,” Stilson said. “I started with Discovery in 2000, so this is my eleventh processing flow with Discovery; I’m very honored to represent the team.”
Stilson like so many of the employees at Kennedy Space Center have strong feeling regarding Discovery in particular as it was the orbiter that got NASA back on its feet after both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.
“Just the emotion behind Return-To-Flight, it had been such a long processing flow, so much had happened, so much was out there for us to think about, with the accident happening our hearts were very low at that point, so, STS-114 was able to really lift the NASA family up.” Stilson stated as Discovery rolled past her in the distance.
For Kennedy Space Center’s News Chief, Allard Beutel the final mission of Discovery helped to punctuate the eight years he has spent with NASA.
“Discovery was the first shuttle that I did my first commentary-countdown, my first 3-2-1-liftoff was with Discovery,” Beutel said. “There’s a little place right here in my heart for Discovery and all the missions that it has done.”
For one person that attended the rollout and the photo op at launch complex 39A the following day however, this was a bittersweet moment. He had followed Discovery for the 23 years that he had worked at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC).
“Discovery is my vehicle, everyone out here as their personal favorite orbiter,” said Nick Thomas who works with the astronauts at the KSCVC during their daily presentations. “She is the first vehicle I saw with my own eyes back on July. 4, 1988, she was the first vehicle I ever visited out on the launch pad, she was the first vehicle I stuck my head into and she launched on my 40th birthday.”
Thomas had a broad smile on his face throughout the interview as he talked about all the good memories he had working in the space industry. However he, like many, acknowledge that there are mixed emotions at seeing the shuttle program come to a close.
“She has seen her time, she deserves a rest and she’s going to go out with a fine mission I am sure of that.” Thomas said. It’s also sad to see her lining up for one last flight, you look out there and you wish her calm winds and smooth seas.”