The Last Space Shuttle

By Brenda Clough
One of the reasons the American space program is so cool, is that everybody loves it.  Everybody may not want to PAY for it, but everybody loves it.  And this can be easily proven every time the public gets to participate in or view something like the last flight of the Discovery space shuttle from Florida to its new home at the Air and Space Annex in northern Virginia. 

This happened yesterday, April 17, 2012, a work day.  It was all over the news that the shuttle, perched on its 747 jet, would be flying over the region, so we all kept an eye on the news coverage and online updates.  The flight from Florida took less time that planned, and so there was time for a good few circuits of the metro area.  Everyone in our building piled out into the parking lot and waited to see it pass.  I could see people up on the roofs of nearby buildings, and there was much anxious amateur discussion about cloud cover and flight approaches.

And then there it was!  Huge and low and not terribly fast. We in the parking lot up set up a howl.  Latecomers scurried out and cell phone cameras were hastily deployed.  People with news feeds reported that it was going to go around, back downtown, and then come back again.  So everyone continued to hang out, and traffic came to a dead halt on all the neighboring highways. Traffic reporters begged motorists to pull over, and not to bomb down the highway with their heads sticking out the side windows.  My husband reports that everyone in his office tower in Ballston, VA, galloped back and forth to various windows, to glimpse it — they’re lucky the skyscraper didn’t start rocking. When it came around the second time we were able to watch it pass and turn, slowly making its final circuit to the landing approach.  It was a partly cloudy day, but it flew into a shaft of sunshine and glittered, a manmade star.

But the incident that inspired this post?  After the first pass, when we were standing outside in the spring sunshine waiting to see it a second time, one of the women from another office was chanting, “Come on, one more time!  Please!”  You understand?  She was praying, aloud, to the space shuttle.

Human beings are a strange, illogical race –I did mention, about how we won’t pay for what we adore.  But a lot of the time we recognize history when we see it.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Press. I also have stories in Book View Cafe’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies, including our latest, Beyond Grimm.

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About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.

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The Last Space Shuttle — 6 Comments

  1. I wonder if the public would have been more inclined to pay for it – or demand that the congress fund it – if the shuttle program had been more in-your-face visible, the way the flight you saw was. An image on TV doesn’t touch us the way the real thing does.

  2. OTOH it is horrifically expensive to fly the thing around, even piggyback on a jet. For nothing but PR even I can see it’s too costly. A different shuttle, the Enterprise, has been on display here at the Uvar-Hazy Air & Space Annex for many years. It was a demo shuttle, and has never been flown. Anybody can come out to see it. They’re going to swap in the space-scarred Discovery, and send the less-historical Enterprise up to New York City, to be displayed with the Intrepid on the Hudson River. Observant east coast residents can probably see it flying north next week — see http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/apr/M12-071_SCA_Enterprise_NYC_Flyover.html

  3. When I was pregnant 23 years ago (yoicks, really? I have a 23 year old?) the Spouse and I took a last-chance-to-be-irresponsible trip to Disney World. While we were there we heard that there was going to be a shuttle launch…at 7am the next day. Foregoing a day at the park, we got up at 4am and drove dozily across Florida to arrive at a swampy area across the bay from the launch site, where a couple hundred people were already gathered. There were the old hands–a little old lady told me, matter of factly, that she never missed a launch. There were the newbies, like me. We were an unlikely bunch of enthusiasts, a karass bound together by our awe and fascination with space flight: old, young, right, left, urban, rural. You name it.

    The launch never happened that day: the shuttle stood across the bay, with tiny little black dots scurrying around it, for several hours, before the announcement went out by radio, and was relayed among us (o! days before cell phones) that the cloud cover had been judged too dense. We all left, in little clumps, and weirdly enough, at least half of the crowd seemed to wind up at a greasy spoon in the nearest town, eating eggs and talking about the launch that wasn’t. After breakfast we went back to the Kennedy Space Center and did the tour, and it was awesome in the original sense of the word (you look at the tiny broom-closet sized space that the Mercury astronauts got to sit in, and are stunned at their courage. Was it Tom Wolfe who talked about the people who were willing to sit on top of a Roman Candle while the fuse was lit?). I would have loved to see the shuttle fly, but in odd ways it was very satisfying to find yet another tribe to which we belonged.

  4. On top of a Roman candle -built with the lowest government bid!- That’s the incredible courage part!
    Do you remember the last Nebs but three, which were held in Florida? They were going to organize a space shuttle launch view, but as I recall it was also postponed.
    I have never seen one, and now I never will. Only in fiction — as with so many things, my characters can do what I can’t. I sent Titus Oates down to Cape Kennedy to attend a launch but in the end, due to the exigencies of plot, the actual launch doesn’t show up on stage.

  5. Once I stood out in the small, winding street in front of my then-home at an odd hour and watched the shuttle scream by on its way to Houston. For a while, I thought I’d missed it — I was looking up through a window of precious green cover.

    But when it shot through, the plume taking up 20% of the sky, you could not mistake it for anything else.

    We have touched the moon. I wonder if that fact will be all that is known about us, ten thousand years from now? And how will the stories be told?