Atlantis Final Flight: Seven Years Ago Today

End of  an Era 

Tomorrow marks the end of an era: the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis and  the 135th and last mission of the NASA space shuttle program.

A lot of us grew up with the space shuttle program, yearning and dreaming to reach the stars. The space shuttle and the space science programs inspired many a student to pursue higher education in aeronautical and aerospace sciences. There was the HABET  (high altitude balloon experiments in technology)  program at Iowa State University in the Space Systems and Controls Lab or the CUBESAT program at CalPoly: an innovative program wholly run by students to design, construct, test, launch, and operate miniature satellites for space research. It was a time of great inspiration. I still remember all those years of getting the applications for the astronaut program that never made it to NASA.

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End of a Chapter: WhiteKnightOne’s Final Flight

Last month marked 10 years since the first commercial space flight. SpaceShipOne quietly tucked under the belly of its mother ship, WhiteKnightOne, flew successfully into outer space on June 21st, 2004. Although the flight into outer space and the return lasted barely 24 minutes, it accomplished what Rutan set out to prove: that commercial space flight is feasible. Two subsequent flights in September and October of the same year, demonstrated undeniably that it is not only possible but can be accomplished with short turn around time.

Oshkosh 09Scaled Composites went on to win the Ansari X-Prize and continues to build SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo with commercial space tourism in mind under the auspices  of Virgin Galactic. After the three successful flights, SpaceShipOne was retired, and now graces the front galley in the Smithsonian Air and Space Musuem in Washington, D.C. This week marked the end of the first phase of commercial space flight. WhiteKnightOne, the mother-ship of SpaceShipOne was finally retired. It flew it’s final flight to Paine Field, in Everett, WA where it will become a part of the Paul Allen Heritage Collection.

DCF 1.0I have fond memories of these two spacecrafts. Over the last decade I have had several opportunities to be up close and personal with them. It was back in the fall of 2003, when I first spied SpaceShipOne. Things were still hush-hush back then. One afternoon, I had an incredible opportunity to spend an hour or two in the hanger that houses SpaceShipOne in the offices of Scaled Composites in the Mohave Dessert, and to hear Rutan speak about his design and vision for spaceflight. How can I forget, that on that afternoon, in that hanger, when I surreptitiously let my hand caress the fuselage with wonder? Or later to think gleefully that if not I, that my fingerprints made it to space?

DCF 1.0Or, how can I forget, that other Spring day, when I drove out to the arid Mohave Dessert at 3:00 a.m. along with several thousands others, who held the same enthusiasm and joy to be there to experience history being made? Pristine, peaceful and awe-inspiring was the moment to see the WhiteKnightOne taxi up to the runway with ShipOneOne tucked in it’s belly and quietly depart in the pre dawn morning, climbing slowly to altitude. Or to see, Mike Melville’s, triumphant return, gliding SpaceShipOne back to earth.

Or, the excitement to flying into the nation’s only spaceport in 2005? Or seeing Rutan and Melville at Oshkosh in 2005, triumphant from their success? Flying in WhiteKnightOne and SpaceShipOne to Oshkosh during Airventure?

My encounters don’t end here. Airventure 2011, celebrated Rutan Designs. While SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnightOne were not present, several other Rutan designs were on display.

DCF 1.0On any given day, a few steps put’s me, up close and personal with SpaceShipOne.

Kudo’s to WhightKnightOne for a job well done. Maybe one day I will make it to Paine Field in Everett, WA and visit it.

spaceshiponeSpace is the Final Frontier. That we will make it there one day is a given!

Let’s do it!