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The Shuttles Retire
On the 24th October 2003 between 4. 01p. m. and 4. 05p. m. three Concorde flights landed to great fanfare at Heathrow Airport in London. These were the final flights of this fantastic aircraft, two being round-trips for VIPs and the third, a scheduled flight from New York. Everybody with an ounce of emotion was heavyhearted to witness the end of an era and wished they had taken the time and effort to fly in the small but beautiful wonder of aviation or had at least been privileged to see it fly. Concorde was retired on 26th November 2003.
Six years later, we are facing another retirement, that of the Shuttles Endeavor, Discovery and Atlantis. Five launches are scheduled for 2010 before they are mothballed and take a well earned rest. A rocket launch is exciting and special, a Shuttle launch ten times more so due to its' history of previous accidents and the presence of incredibly brave astronauts. If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to be able to travel to the Kennedy Space Centre for one of these launches, don' t wish you had later on in life. Do it.
I have been fortunate to have seen various Shuttles under different circumstances every time. Once, I was indoors in my house in Kissimmee while the launch was being broadcast live on television. Although we are almost fifty miles away, I went outside to the pool to have a look, just in case. Nothing. It was a clear blue sky but no rocket was visible. Fortunately my husband was on hand to turn me round and point me in the right direction enabling me to observe the shiny object with the bright yellow flame pushing it ever higher into the sky, leaving an expanding plume behind it. East, West, it' s a boy thing.
The next occasion found us driving through Fort Lauderdale early in the evening as the sun was setting, again in a clear sky. We were then treated to the sight of the Shuttle climbing an incredible one hundred and eighty miles away. We could see it so clearly and it was thrilling. So much so, we decided there and then to do everything in our power to be privy to a Shuttle, any Shuttle launch.
An opportunity presented itself for a night time launch at about two in the morning three years ago. Together with two friends, my husband and I made our way to a good viewpoint about eleven or twelve miles distant from the launch site and waited patiently for the moment. This may sound an inordinate distance but it' s amazing how clear everything is and how close you feel to it.
There are thousands of spectators sprinkled over a vast area around the site but it doesn' t take long to strike up a conversation with others in your immediate circle and time goes past quite quickly. A truck parked near us had been left with the windows down and the radio on, giving us the countdown to the launch. I had a vague idea where to be looking but the sudden burst of amazingly bright flames exploding from the bottom of the rocket immediately directs your attention to the exact spot. It appears to be climbing very slowly originally but is actually travelling at over one hundred miles an hour by the time the foot of the rocket clears the support frame.
For approximately ten seconds, I watched in awe as it speeded up and left the ground further and further behind. Then the noise hits you. And boy, does it hit you. The ground reverberates and the whole scene is so fantastic and emotional, it is impossible not to whoop with delight or shed a few tears. And I' m not an American!
The other two launches were in daylight, one which was lost after a few seconds in cloud cover and the other, the most recent, was exciting without matching the experience of my first launch which will give me a memory to cherish forever.
If you get the chance to witness one of Shuttle' s last launches, do it. Don' t ever be left wishing you had.
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