Space Shuttle Endeavour's Launch a Mix of Sound, Fury, Triumph, Sadness
News Analysis: Even on its last flight, Shuttle Endeavour posted a list of firsts, but it's hard to forget this is the shuttle's final flight.
I played hooky from work for a little while this morning. I turned
on Today on NBC to watch the incredible glory of a Shuttle launch.
While I was at it, I brought up Twitter on my BlackBerry so I could read Rob Pegoraro's live Tweets
of the event. Rob was only about three miles away, feeling the blast
and hearing the overwhelming sound that constitutes a launch into space.
Later, after Endeavour achieved orbit, I learned of an unexpected first after all of these years of Shuttle launches. Stefanie Gordon, a New Jersey blogger, happened to be in the right place at the right time, and caught the launch on her way to Florida from the window of an airliner. I know that this isn't the first time that a Shuttle launch was seen from an airliner, but as far as I know, it's the first time someone saw it, took the photo on a smartphone, and then Tweeted the photo. Oh, and she shot video, too.
There are plenty of things to make you feel good about the launch. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords got out of her rehabilitation hospital in Houston long enough to sit atop an observation building at the Kennedy Space Center and watch the Shuttle, commanded by Navy Captain- and Gifford's husband Mark Kelly break the surly bonds of Earth one last time. "Good stuff, good stuff," the Associated Press is reporting that she said, once things quieted down enough to hear anything.
Endeavour is carrying a supercooled magnetic tunnel called the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that might or might not provide a breakthrough in particle physics. It's carrying prototypes for tiny satellites that would be blown around by the solar wind and return information about the solar system. The prototypes will live on the outside of the Space Station.
I could go on for pages about the science that's being done by Endeavour and its crew. Some of those experiments, like the tiny satellites, could be done by anything that can reach the Space Station, but others, such as the AMS, require the Shuttle. Once the Shuttle is gone, there will be no means of lifting those heavy payloads, at least for now. Unfortunately, the Shuttle has been killed-and right now there's no replacement.