NPR logo Blast From The Past: Your Shuttle Stories

The End Of The Space Shuttle Era

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. Courtesy of Andy Carvin hide caption

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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.

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.

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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.