Share Your Space Shuttle Memories

The U.S. space shuttle program is over. Atlantis touched down at the Kennedy Space Center before dawn Thursday, the last mission of a program that carried humans into space for 30 years, opened new windows on the universe through the Hubble telescope and helped build the International Space Station.

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NEAL CONAN, host: Just before 6:00 this morning, the United State space shuttle program ended as the orbiter Atlantis glided to land at the Kennedy Space Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF ATLANTIS LANDING)

ROB NAVIAS: The pre-flare maneuver executed. Landing gear down and locked. Main gear touchdown. Hurley now deploying the drag chute. Ferguson rotating the nose gear down to the deck. Nose gear touchdown.

CONAN: The 135th and final mission, delivered year's worth of supplies to the International Space Station. Columbia and Challenger were lost. Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour will become museum exhibits, along with the test orbiter which never went into space, Enterprise.

We want to hear your shuttle story. Did you work on one? Did you ever go down to Cape Canaveral to watch a launch? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Here's an email we have from Peter in Norwich, Connecticut: A close friend of mine lives in Satellite Beach, just south of Cape Canaveral, and could see the shuttle launch from his seaside east-facing balcony. While visiting him over 15 years ago, a shuttle was due to go up during my stay. And as he had connections, he was able to get us passes to view the launch from the jetty that's as close to the launch site as the general public is allowed to go. The launch went off without a hitch on a bright, sunny day. And I remember well the raw power of the takeoff. It put a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye and filled me with national pride in a way I cannot fully put into words. It's a moment I will never ever forget.

And let's see if we get a caller on. And let's go to Kevin, Kevin with us from Manchester in New Hampshire.

KEVIN: Hi, Neal. The day the space - Challenger blew up, I was in college and I was entering the dining hall and they had a radio based in the ceiling - a speaker in the ceiling and I heard some commotion going on the radio, so I stopped to listen. And I heard the horrific news. And I guess I must have gone white and looked like death. A friend of mine saw me and walked up to me and asked me if I was OK, so I told him what had happened. And he was wearing his Concord High School jacket and Christa McAuliffe was his favorite teacher of all time, almost like a family member. So it was as though I inadvertently told him that a family member had died. It's a moment - that's the moment I remember the space shuttle.

CONAN: Christa McAuliffe, for those who don't remember, the teacher who was aboard the Challenger when it exploded shortly after takeoff. Kevin, is she well-remembered?

KEVIN: She is very well-remembered. We have a planetarium named in her honor in Concord, New Hampshire, and also featured there is Alan Shepard, who died several years ago, also from New Hampshire, in fact, my hometown. He's from Derry, New Hampshire.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much for the call, Kevin. Appreciate it.

Thank you.

Here's an email from Jody(ph): In 1983, my husband, who's health was declining rapidly, insisted on taking our two boys on a motorcycle trip to Florida. While there, we were able to watch a shuttle launch from the mainland. It was the highlight of the trip. My husband, who was only 35, died a few months later but was happy that he was able to give the boys this lift.

Let's go next to Lorraine, Lorraine with us from Grass Valley in California.

LORRAINE: Hi, Neal. I was a news or television reporter in Daytona Beach a number of years ago and my girlfriend, Denise O'Toole, worked for The Daytona Beach News-Journal. And we were at a shuttle launch, you know, covering it, and when it went off, the entire room went quiet and it - Denise says, it takes the launch of a shuttle to shut up a roomful of journalists.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: It was one of those stories that every local television station eventually found an angle and sent somebody to Cape Canaveral.

LORRAINE: Exactly. Very exciting, a lot of fun times.

CONAN: Congratulations and thanks very much for the story.

LORRAINE: Have a good day.

CONAN: Here's an email from James in North Carolina: I will forever cherish the memory of being in Ms. Cheeks'(ph) eight grade science class watching the first launch on the new portable television. We'd waited so long, now, all these years later, my 4-year-old son got to see the final launch at Cape Canaveral. He saw Atlantis go up on the TV while on vacation, but a cloud blocked our view of the real thing from a nephew's yard. We've enjoyed seeing them pass over our home as fast-moving lights.

Let's go next to Brian(ph), Brian with us from Overland Park in Kansas.

BRIAN: Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

BRIAN: Well, my memory is, my wife and I, we weren't married at that point but we were doing what the Australians might call a drive-about in the United States for four months. And we managed to plan it so we were down across from the launch site there in Florida for the second shuttle launch and spent the night in the trunk area, you might say, of our little pick-up car, kind of crammed in there just so we could get close enough, found a little nook and cranny that no one else knew about to get close. And my memory is this. When that shuttle launch took off, you could feel everything around you basically vibrate. It was the most amazing thing. And unless you've ever been near one of those during a launch, you can't imagine what it's like to feel the air and your whole body vibrate with that launch sound and effect.

CONAN: It resonates through your chest, doesn't it?

BRIAN: Oh, absolutely. And, again, Neal, as a sidebar, if you ever want to find out if you're set to marry somebody, spend four months in a small car traveling around the country. You'll find out in a big hurry.

CONAN: I guess you will. Are you still married?

BRIAN: Yep.

CONAN: Congratulations, Brian. Thanks very much.

BRIAN: Thank you.

CONAN: You're talking about the shuttle memories. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

This email from Mike in Stoughton, Massachusetts. I was in Orlando in December of 2007, at a conference and was fortunate enough to see a night launch. It was the most powerful and majestic sight I've ever seen. As a symbol of American imagination and ingenuity, the shuttle will be sorely missed.

Let's go next to Zane(ph) and Zane with us from Birmingham.

ZANE: Hi. I remember back in the late '70s, I guess, watching the Enterprise being launched through the back of a 747 with my family crowded around the television and then telling that if I worked hard enough, that I had the opportunity to pilot that thing one day. It never happened, but it was an amazing experience that I'll never forget. And then, later on, as an adult, I visited the Huntsville Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and saw the Enterprise on display and was brought back to that memory. It was an incredible experience both times.

CONAN: Why were you in Huntsville?

ZANE: I live in Alabama and was just visiting the space center. Actually, I went to school near there and was visiting that weekend and - or on a weekend and had seen - had recently gone on display and was excited because I remember seeing it 20 years - almost 20 years earlier as a child and I was excited to see it. It was a great experience.

CONAN: Huntsville, the underrated space city in America. We always think of either Houston or Cape Canaveral, but that's the Redstone arsenal there in...

ZANE: It really, really is. If anyone ever has the opportunity, they shouldn't forsake an opportunity to visit the Huntsville Space Flight Center. It's a great, great facility.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Zane.

ZANE: Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Let's go next to Brian(ph), Brian with us from Port Charlotte in Florida.

BRIAN: Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

BRIAN: I had a great experience with the - a shuttle launch. My daughter was born in May of 1996 in Orlando. We were up on the sixth floor of the Florida Hospital in Orlando with an outside window that looked east. My daughter was born, and the first time that I got to hold her in my arms I was standing at the window when we were both looking out the window. And sure enough, there was the launch that I wasn't aware of. And the shuttle came up over the horizon and blasted off into the sky. So it was one of those memories of both the birth of my daughter and a shuttle launch that I'll never forget. That's the only comment I'd like to have.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much for the call.

BRIAN: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Here's an email from Bruce in Oakland. As an 11-year-old, when the space shuttle program started, it sparked my imagination. I built a model shuttle out of Legos. And with a string run over a curtain rod, launched my own miniature spacecraft synchronous with a live launch on TV. I was proud to declare I would be the first man on Mars. Now, I'm glad to enjoy our own green Earth.

Let's go next to Fred, and Fred with us from Livermore, California.

FRED: Well, hi, Neal. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead.

FRED: I tell you (technical difficulty) years ago, I took my brother and my sisters, we traveled all the way down to Mojave Desert and see the shuttle land. And the experience was so that we still talk about it.

CONAN: At Edwards Air Force Base?

FRED: Edwards Air Force, yeah. And everybody was so jubilant, that after the landing strangers will hug each other, give them a high five.

CONAN: It's interesting. There's often not public access to that location.

FRED: Yeah. And I was hoping that Florida would - encounter (unintelligible) so that the shuttle had to land in California so we can go see it again but it didn't happen.

CONAN: It didn't work out that way.

FRED: No, it didn't work that way.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

FRED: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: This is from Jane in Portland. It must have been 1999 or the year 2000. I was living in Austin, Texas. I had the local news on the TV and they said the space shuttle was visible in the evening sky. I calmly walked out my front door, I looked up and there it was, beginning a perfect arc across the sky. It looked so huge with a massive smoke trail behind it. I started running to the neighbors, knocking frantically and saying, it's the space shuttle. It's the space shuttle. Only one neighbor was home and she didn't seem nearly as excited as me. I'll never forget that sight. It was amazing.

And here we have one from - this is Brad in Statesville, North Carolina. I was very young, about seven, when the first shuttle went up. I remember waking up extra early that morning. I recorded the audio from the TV on a cassette recorder, pre-VCR. I think it was Columbia. It was so neat to watch history happening. It's sad that they are doing this without a follow-up project in the works or in production. It puts us in a very awkward position. Yes, I'm a science geek with a degree in applied physics and math.

Maybe inspired by that shuttle launch. Thanks to everybody who wrote to us and called. We're sorry we couldn't get everybody on the air.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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