Famous “Last” Words for the Shuttle Program

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Friday July 8, 2011 was a significant historic day for NASA – one that will go down in history as the day of the final space shuttle launch. Here are a few of the historic “last” words spoken by the launch control team and the astronauts just before Atlantis headed off into history, as well as words from some other notable folks after the launch:

Launch director Mike Leinbach always has some final words to tell the astronauts awaiting on the launch pad that the launch team has all given a “go” for launch. Here’s his send-off:

Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach talks with reporters. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

“OK, Fergie, (commander Chris Ferguson) we’re starting to feel pretty good here on the ground about this one today, so on behalf of the greatest team in the world, good luck to you and your crew on the final flight of this true American icon. And so for the final time, Fergie, Doug, Sandy and Rex, good luck, Godspeed and have a little fun up there.”

The final Space Shuttle Crew for STS 135. The crew was greeted and given a rousing sendoff of cheers by hundreds of journalists and NASA employees and managers. From left: Mission Specialists Rex Walheim and Sandy Magnus, Pilot Doug Hurley Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson. Credit: Ken Kremer

In reply, Ferguson said, “Hey, thanks to you and your team, Mike and until the very end, you all made it look easy. The shuttle’s always going to be a reflection of what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through. We’re not ending the journey today, Mike, we’re completing a chapter of a journey that will never end. You and the thousands of men and women who gave their hearts, souls and their lives to the cause of exploration. Let’s light this fire one more time, Mike, and witness this nation at its best.”

Another very touching send-off was from the members of the close-out crew at the launchpad, who held up a series of signs in front of the camera in the white room that gave this message:

“On behalf of all who have designed and built…
Serviced & loaded… launched & controlled…
Operated & flown these magnificent space vehicles…
Thanks for 30 years with our nations’ space shuttles
Godspeed Atlantis.
God bless America”

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden released a video statement after the launch:

US President Barack Obama released his own statement after the launch. (Not the reference to going to Mars, which may be the most direct statement made by a president about the US space program intending to go to the Red Planet):

“Today, Americans across the country watched with pride as four of our fellow citizens blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and America reached for the heavens once more.

Behind Atlantis and her crew of brave astronauts stand thousands of dedicated workers who have poured their hearts and souls into America’s Space Shuttle program over the past three decades. To them and all of NASA’s incredible workforce, I want to express my sincere gratitude. You helped our country lead the space age, and you continue to inspire us each day.

“Today’s launch may mark the final flight of the Space Shuttle, but it propels us into the next era of our never-ending adventure to push the very frontiers of exploration and discovery in space. We’ll drive new advances in science and technology. We’ll enhance knowledge, education, innovation, and economic growth. And I have tasked the men and women of NASA with an ambitious new mission: to break new boundaries in space exploration, ultimately sending Americans to Mars. I know they are up to the challenge – and I plan to be around to see it.

Congratulations to Atlantis, her astronauts, and the people of America’s space program on a picture-perfect launch, and good luck on the rest of your mission to the International Space Station, and for a safe return home. I know the American people share my pride at what we have accomplished as a nation, and my excitement about the next chapter of our preeminence in space.”

Do you have any last words for the space shuttle program?

End of the Shuttle Era: Q & A With Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach

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CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – He has been with the shuttle program for the past three decades and has witnessed both its tragedies and its triumphs. NASA’s Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach reflected on the end of the shuttle era when interviewed this week. He talked a bit about his plans for the future as well as what he thinks people can expect from both him and his team on launch day.

Q: The Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT) for STS-135 has just wrapped up, is this is a period of accelerated work for you and your team or is this a time when you can catch your breath?

Leinbach: “This TCDT was a little different; we had a very busy period getting the crew
ready for this mission. On July 4 we’ll have a bit of a break and then things
will pick right back up again as we get ready for launch.”

Q: What do you think you will be feeling when that final launch occurs?

Leinbach: “I don’t know, I mean I have thought a lot about this…I don’t know what it’s
going to be like. For the last flight of Discovery we had one more launch for
both Endeavour and Atlantis, well now this really and truly the last flight of
the shuttle program… so it’s going to be a very reflective time.”

Leinbach gestures toward his former secretary before the start of the interview. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Q: Do you think anything will be special about this mission?

Leinbach: “The launch itself will be very much any other launch. When the guy’s are
working on the consoles they are very serious about what they are doing.
They won’t be distracted by the fact that it is the last one.

Q: Speaking of your job – it keeps you very busy, have you had any time to reflect?

Leinbach: “For the moment I still have a lot to do concluding TCDT, but this Saturday I
am planning on driving out to the launch pad and just looking up at Atlantis
and just soaking it all in, all by myself.”

Leinbach started working for NASA as a structural engineer in 1984, his words are softly spoken which tends to lend them even more weight. His first mission as launch director was STS-114. This was the first shuttle launch after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. Leinbach led the recovery team searching for Columbia’s debris in Texas. A year later in 2004 Leinbach was awarded the Presidential Rank Award, which is given in recognition of long-term accomplishments.

Atlantis will carry the four person crew of STS-135 to the International Space Station on a resupply flight designed to keep the orbiting outpost well stocked after the shuttles are decommissioned. The mission is scheduled to last twelve days, launching on July 8 at 11:26 a.m. EDT. The crew consists of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.

The Launch Control Center or LCC is where the final "go" "no-go" for launch is determined. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

The Last Train to KSC: Final Set of Solid Rocket Boosters Arrive

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Another end-of-an-era event heralding the conclusion of the space shuttle program: the final set of space shuttle solid rocket booster segments arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday, May 27, 2010. The segments were carried on railway cars from the ATK factory in Utah where the boosters are built. The last part of the trip from Jacksonville, Florida included passenger cars carrying NASA personnel and ATK officials, including astronaut Mike Massimino, shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach, and the “voice” of NASA TV, George Diller. The train stopped across the Indian River from KSC where the tracks lead to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

The boosters will be stacked in the VAB for a possible rescue mission, or perhaps, even one last add-on flight for space shuttle Atlantis.

The SRB segments are designated for STS-335, the Launch-On-Need mission that would be flown if the last scheduled shuttle flight — STS-134, now scheduled for launch in late November — would encounter a problem. Or, if Congress allows, another shuttle mission using the ready-to-go shuttle could be added. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told President Obama in a letter this week that he intended to request funding for the extra mission. NASA hopes to get a go-ahead for the flight, which would become the STS-135 mission, by late June. If approved, the likely launch date would be sometime in the summer of 2011.

NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a news conference this week that if the additional flight were approved, a Soyuz would be readied as a rescue vehicle, and the shuttle crew would be smaller, probably 4 crew members. The crew could take safe harbor at the International Space Station, if needed, until the rescue Soyuz arrived. The shuttle could bring extra supplies and hardware to the ISS.

Astronaut Mike Massimino disembarks from the train carrying the SRB segments. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

Veteran astronaut Mike Massimino told a Florida television station crew that he hopes for an additional shuttle mission. “I think we have to be optimistic,” Massimino said. “There are just too many people around the country and the world who are so supportive of our program.”

ATK laid off 1,300 of their 5,000 person workforce because of shutting down production of the boosters, but the company is hoping to be part of NASA’s future spaceflight plans.

“There’s quite a bit of uncertainty,” said ATK KSC Deputy Director Ted Shaffner. “The direction is very cloudy from our politicians and NASA is struggling with what direction we do take.”

More images from the event:

Shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach talks with reporters about the final SRB segments. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
George Diller, the 'voice' of NASA TV, disembarks from the train carrying the SRB segments. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
A Florida East Coast engine brought the SRB railcars to KSC. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.
NASA has their own locomotive to bring the railcars to the VAB. Credit: Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com) for Universe Today.

And I know someone is going to comment on the “Do Not Hump” sign on the railcar. What it means is that the contents of the railcar are delicate enough that the car should not be ‘humped,’ which is a method to sort freight cars by rolling them down a hill instead of using a locomotive engine to move the cars. Obviously, NASA and ATK don’t want the SRB segments to go rolling down a hill. Find out more about humping here.

Sources: Florida Today, CFNews 13