Editor's Pick

Blast From The Past: Your Shuttle Stories

In ten days, if all goes to plan, Atlantis will return to Earth, marking the end of NASA's 30-year-old shuttle program. The memories made over those three decades are countless; we asked you to share your shuttle stories and photos. And to kick it off, Andy Carvin, NPR's social media strategist, shares his story.

This newspaper clipping from the Florida Today shows a 9-year-old Andy Carvin waiting to watch the first shuttle  launch in in April 1981. The launch was scrubbed that day, but Carvin has since managed to attend more than 30 launches. i i

hide captionThis newspaper clipping from the Florida Today shows a 9-year-old Andy Carvin waiting to watch the first shuttle launch in in April 1981. The launch was scrubbed that day, but Carvin has since managed to attend more than 30 launches.

Courtesy of Andy Carvin
This newspaper clipping from the Florida Today shows a 9-year-old Andy Carvin waiting to watch the first shuttle  launch in in April 1981. The launch was scrubbed that day, but Carvin has since managed to attend more than 30 launches.

This newspaper clipping from the Florida Today shows a 9-year-old Andy Carvin waiting to watch the first shuttle launch in in April 1981. The launch was scrubbed that day, but Carvin has since managed to attend more than 30 launches.

Courtesy of Andy Carvin

I grew up in Brevard County, Florida, in an area locally known as the Space Coast. The Kennedy Space Center was about a 40-minute drive north from my house, but we were still within its cultural sphere of influence. My elementary school was named after NASA's Gemini program. My rival high school was named – no, I'm not joking – Satellite High. If your parents didn't work for NASA, you likely had a friend whose parents did. One of my friends – still not joking here - had an abandoned Gemini capsule training module in his garage. We used it as a clubhouse.

According to local lore, the Mercury Seven astronauts used to attend parties at my house, years before my family purchased it, and had helped install the outdoor shower next to our swimming pool. And if you believed what the neighbors told us, an astronaut had actually bent one of our lamp posts after crashing into it with his car one night.

Though my parents weren't NASA employees, I still felt like I was a part of the family. Every day as a kid, I'd check the local paper for updates on when the next launch would be. Despite being 40 miles south of the space center, we had a great view of launches from my house. Usually within a few minutes after a launch, the deep, sonorous rumble would hit the house, shaking our door frames and occasionally setting off car alarms. Over the years I saw satellite launches, experimental rocket system launches, even nighttime missile launches from submarines a few miles offshore. But space shuttle launches were the best.

From the very first shuttle launch in April 1981 until my departure for college eight years later, I tried to plan my schedule around liftoff. Fortunately, this wasn't hard to do during school hours, as my schools would often schedule a fire drill so we could be outside around the time of liftoff. One of the few times they didn't was a cold January day in 1986. Most of us didn't even own proper winter clothes, so they weren't going to force us outside, but at least the launch of space shuttle Challenger was scheduled for lunchtime. After scarfing down some food, I stepped out in front of my school, probably about a minute after the shuttle had exploded. The horrible, yet beautiful weeping willow shape that was etched in the sky from falling debris that day is still etched in my mind, as if it had happened yesterday.

The Challenger explosion was a formative moment of my mid-teens, but the shuttle program itself represented almost my entire childhood in Florida. It didn't matter that my family didn't work for NASA. We were a part of the community that launched the shuttles and brought them home, and we took pride in that fact. The same pride that I felt today, watching space shuttle Atlantis soar into the sky one last time.

Here are some of the stories and photos submitted by NPR readers.

  • STS-119, Discovery, Mar., 2009"We were married the evening of one of the last night launches from Cape Canaveral. Our wedding was at Walt Disney World, FL and we are standing at the Italy Isola pavilion in EPCOT. Could not have been a more beautiful evening — better than fireworks!" (Courtesy of Jess Lubetsky)NOTE: Captions accompanying photos in this presentation have been edited for cl...
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    STS-119, Discovery, Mar., 2009"We were married the evening of one of the last night launches from Cape Canaveral. Our wedding was at Walt Disney World, FL and we are standing at the Italy Isola pavilion in EPCOT. Could not have been a more beautiful evening — better than fireworks!" (Courtesy of Jess Lubetsky)NOTE: Captions accompanying photos in this presentation have been edited for clarity and space.
  • STS-116, Discovery, Dec., 2006:"This is a print I made of the film I shot on the Dec. 2006 launch of Discovery.  It was my family's only launch trip, bringing together two generations of "professional nerds" (both my father and I were military officers and engineers) along with the next generation. My dad and I got a slot for a shuttle launch before I went to Iraq in mid 2005, so this is...
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    STS-116, Discovery, Dec., 2006:"This is a print I made of the film I shot on the Dec. 2006 launch of Discovery. It was my family's only launch trip, bringing together two generations of "professional nerds" (both my father and I were military officers and engineers) along with the next generation. My dad and I got a slot for a shuttle launch before I went to Iraq in mid 2005, so this is something I wasn't sure I'd be able to actually do. Shortly after I got back in 2006 we got the call to go. My father died a year later. Its become one of those moments shared across generations that cannot be replaced."
    Courtesy of Bart Kemper, P.E.
  • STS-129, Atlantis, Nov., 2009"I am a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines. Passengers boarding the plane that morning were asking if they might see the Atlantis shuttle launch en route from Baltimore to Ft. Myers, Fla. Our captain determined the time would be just about right to put us 60 miles west of Cape Kennedy.  I had my good camera, and he invited me to come to the cockpit abou...
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    STS-129, Atlantis, Nov., 2009"I am a flight attendant with Southwest Airlines. Passengers boarding the plane that morning were asking if they might see the Atlantis shuttle launch en route from Baltimore to Ft. Myers, Fla. Our captain determined the time would be just about right to put us 60 miles west of Cape Kennedy. I had my good camera, and he invited me to come to the cockpit about 10 minutes before the launch. It was perfect! The shuttle launched right on time, and I was able to take several great shots as it rose up from the Florida coast and headed into space. We were at 30,000 feet. I will always remember this event, particularly since one of our retired SWA captains, Cmd Robert 'Hoot' Gibson, was commander on four of the Atlantis missions. It was an awesome sight especially from my perspective of altitude and distance."
    Courtesy of Jim Hawkins
  • STS-4, Columbia, July, 1982:"Space shuttle Columbia stopped overnight at Ellington Field in Houston on the way back to Florida after landing in California, and the public was invited to tour the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Security was much looser back in the early 80's.In those years I worked in Bldg 4 at the Johnson Space Center, developing software used for planning and scheduling train...
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    STS-4, Columbia, July, 1982:"Space shuttle Columbia stopped overnight at Ellington Field in Houston on the way back to Florida after landing in California, and the public was invited to tour the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. Security was much looser back in the early 80's.In those years I worked in Bldg 4 at the Johnson Space Center, developing software used for planning and scheduling training for the astronauts and flight controllers. Those were glory days for anyone working there at the time. We got to rub elbows with astronauts and controllers in the stairs and at the vending machines. Most mornings we'd see Bob Crippen drive up in his little red pickup truck. And walking up the stairs with John Young or Guy Bluford puts a little extra spring in your step."
    Courtesy of Walt Pinkston
  • STS-51L, Challenger, Jan., 1986: "I had recently moved to Florida and had seen only a few launches, and I thought the sub-freezing weather was simply making the vapor trail more spectacular than in previous launches. (Also, I knew that it was typical for part of the rocket to split away, which is what I thought I was seeing.)I was in my driveway underneath the car and had forgotten to ta...
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    STS-51L, Challenger, Jan., 1986: "I had recently moved to Florida and had seen only a few launches, and I thought the sub-freezing weather was simply making the vapor trail more spectacular than in previous launches. (Also, I knew that it was typical for part of the rocket to split away, which is what I thought I was seeing.)I was in my driveway underneath the car and had forgotten to take a break to watch the launch. By the time I heard the sound it was over except for the smoke. I went back to my work under the car. My mom called about an hour later and told me it was an explosion. At that time shuttles launched so often that they had become routine occurrences. When launches finally resumed I had a greater appreciation for the effort and risk involved in space flight, and the privilege I have enjoyed as a witness to this great human accomplishment."
    Courtesy of Chris Frazier
  • STS-116, Discovery, Dec., 2006:"Visiting my dad in Merritt Island, where I also saw the very first launch and the first launch after the Challenger disaster. The shuttle seems to have been a big part of most of my adult life!  I always wanted to be an astronaut!"
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    STS-116, Discovery, Dec., 2006:"Visiting my dad in Merritt Island, where I also saw the very first launch and the first launch after the Challenger disaster. The shuttle seems to have been a big part of most of my adult life! I always wanted to be an astronaut!"
    Courtesy of Mari Bonomi
  • STS-134, Endeavor,  May, 2011:"It was amazing. People were cheering so loudly. For the first few seconds of lift-off, we relied on our visual senses to stimulate us: sound had not yet arrived. We were located three miles away from the launch site, and the first boom of the engines and the solid rocket boosters cracked about five seconds into the launch sequence. And what a phenomenal sou...
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    STS-134, Endeavor, May, 2011:"It was amazing. People were cheering so loudly. For the first few seconds of lift-off, we relied on our visual senses to stimulate us: sound had not yet arrived. We were located three miles away from the launch site, and the first boom of the engines and the solid rocket boosters cracked about five seconds into the launch sequence. And what a phenomenal sound it was! There were these crackles, going off and on, like fireworks were exploding about five feet away from you. The sound literally made the hair on your arm and legs stand up. It was absolutely incredible!"
    Courtesy of Eugene Buchko
  • STS-1, Columbia, April, 1981:"Twins, Daniel (left) and David watching the first Shuttle launch in the early 80's.  We were 18 then.  I have watched many since then.  I will be at the last launch on the 8th. God Speed!"
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    STS-1, Columbia, April, 1981:"Twins, Daniel (left) and David watching the first Shuttle launch in the early 80's. We were 18 then. I have watched many since then. I will be at the last launch on the 8th. God Speed!"
    Courtesy of David Wilcox
  • STS-131, Discovery, April, 2010:I had seen some truly spectacular Space Shuttle launches since the Columbia first rocketed into space, but this launch was in a whole new category. Standing alone at the edge of a deserted cow pasture, I watched in awe as the craft first appeared over a line of trees about a quarter mile away, and as it ascended towards space, was transfixed by the sight o...
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    STS-131, Discovery, April, 2010:I had seen some truly spectacular Space Shuttle launches since the Columbia first rocketed into space, but this launch was in a whole new category. Standing alone at the edge of a deserted cow pasture, I watched in awe as the craft first appeared over a line of trees about a quarter mile away, and as it ascended towards space, was transfixed by the sight of a towering back-lit column of exhaust.And THEN... about half a minute or so after the two SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters) separated, a plume appeared around the craft itself, and the view changed into something that I had never witnessed before. A moving, nebulous 'blob' that expanded and twisted as the Shuttle arched its way back toward the horizon as it continued into orbit. It was one of the most spectacular things I had ever seen."
    Courtesy of Jonathan Sabin
  • STS-134 scrub, May 2011: "I went down from Omaha, Neb. with a friend-of-a-friend I'd never met.  Planning on checking out Space View Park the day before the launch, hitting the beach, then going back to our hotel for an early start launch morning, we decided to stay at the park instead.  It was a cold rainy night and we were underdressed - he found a way to stay warm.  And around noon th...
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    STS-134 scrub, May 2011: "I went down from Omaha, Neb. with a friend-of-a-friend I'd never met. Planning on checking out Space View Park the day before the launch, hitting the beach, then going back to our hotel for an early start launch morning, we decided to stay at the park instead. It was a cold rainy night and we were underdressed - he found a way to stay warm. And around noon the next day, the launch was scrubbed. It was pretty much a kick in the head, but makes for a great story. I'm glad I at least made the attempt."
    Courtesy of Scott Susman
  • STS-131 Discovery, April, 2010: "It was the thrill of a lifetime for me, my wife and brother. We drove from Minnesota to KSC to watch the launch. I had been to the cape once before to see a launch many years before, but that launch was scrubbed at T-31 seconds. This one went off on time into a picture perfect dawn! The transition from darkness to daylight at the time it cleared the steam...
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    STS-131 Discovery, April, 2010: "It was the thrill of a lifetime for me, my wife and brother. We drove from Minnesota to KSC to watch the launch. I had been to the cape once before to see a launch many years before, but that launch was scrubbed at T-31 seconds. This one went off on time into a picture perfect dawn! The transition from darkness to daylight at the time it cleared the steam cloud was quite unexpected and incredible to see (it almost hurt to look at it!). My biggest and most lasting impression from seeing a launch in person was the sense of pure power and acceleration the vehicle displays as it disappears down range (0 to Mach 25 in 8.5 minutes!). I knew going into it that photographing a night launch would be a challenge, it is kind of like taking a picture of a bug sitting on the tip of an acetylene torch!"
    Courtesy of Tim Blank
  • STS-122, Atlantis, Feb., 2008:After a 20-hour drive from Houston to the Kennedy Space Center we were rewarded with an unforgettable experience. When Atlantis took off my wife put our son on her shoulders so that he could see better. I was snapping pictures without looking through the viewfinder as I didn't want to experience this event solely through the viewfinder. We were all fascinate...
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    STS-122, Atlantis, Feb., 2008:After a 20-hour drive from Houston to the Kennedy Space Center we were rewarded with an unforgettable experience. When Atlantis took off my wife put our son on her shoulders so that he could see better. I was snapping pictures without looking through the viewfinder as I didn't want to experience this event solely through the viewfinder. We were all fascinated by the sheer power and grace of the Atlantis rising into orbit. Thanks only to my wife we were able to get this picture when she turned around and said: 'Hey, take a picture of us'. The boosters and main engines still made a lot of noise and our son covered his ears as he felt it was too loud for him. Even years after we still like think back. It was a great experience and someday, I'd like to take our second son to see a spacecraft launch so that he can experience the magic, too."
    Courtesy of Michael Homburger
  • STS-131, Discovery, April, 2010:"The final countdown was on. The crowd seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of a safe launch. Only whispers spread through the crowd before we tensely, excitedly chanted down from 10 to liftoff. Cheers erupted as the shuttle's red flame lit up the inky sky. Discovery had made it! We had lift off!We stood glued to the tableau above us until Discovery f...
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    STS-131, Discovery, April, 2010:"The final countdown was on. The crowd seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of a safe launch. Only whispers spread through the crowd before we tensely, excitedly chanted down from 10 to liftoff. Cheers erupted as the shuttle's red flame lit up the inky sky. Discovery had made it! We had lift off!We stood glued to the tableau above us until Discovery faded into the darkness. The blue dawn crept in slowly around the shuttle's gray vapor trail. Within minutes startling oranges and yellows illuminated Discovery's path like a flame licking through the sky. The early morning ocean breeze slowly shifted the spectacle from a con trail to a dragon to an ethereal face smiling down upon us from the heavens. Godspeed Discovery, Godspeed."
    Courtesy of Kerry Ann Morgan

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