Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Launch Director: Reflection Comes Later

For many of us who have been around the shuttle program for a long time, it's just not sinking in yet, and we still don't know what or how we are going to feel when Atlantis rolls to a stop at the end of NASA's 135th and final shuttle mission this summer.

Take today as an example. Discovery became the first of NASA's three remaining orbiters to make its final landing, rolling out on Runway 15 here at the Kennedy Space Center as hundreds watched on, cheering, clapping, waving American flags. And snapping photos. Lots of photos.

But there still is this pervasive sense among many of us that this really cannot be happening. Discovery tallied a near-record low -- maybe even a record low -- number of technical problems during its final flight. And the seven, eight or nine hiccups that did crop up were nits. What NASA calls "funnies." Nothing of any significance.

NASA's 133rd shuttle flight was the 39th for Discovery, and shuttle orbiter airframes are certified to fly 100 times.

But at the same time, deep down, we all know this is coming to an end.

"I stood back and looked at Discovery today for quite some time and just watched the people work on her. I was walking around listening to the comments people were making: 'What a great ship this is. I can't believe the program is coming to an end. Yet,'" said NASA Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

"But intellectually, we all know it is. And so it's kind of a delicate balance emotionally to deal with that. But again, the people working on this machine, they didn't skip a beat today. There were no big emotional outbursts, or tears and all that kind of stuff. The people had a job to do, and by God, they were going to the job the best they could for the last time on Discovery. And that's the way it will be on Endeavour and Atlantis, too," Leinbach said.

"So the time for reflection, I think, comes later. I didn't know whether it would come for me today or not. I don't think it has yet. I think it will come later."

Sometime after 11:14 a.m. Sunday, July 10. That's the current landing time for Atlantis and its astronauts on the final shuttle grand finale.

Sometime after that.

No comments: