Locals watch final space shuttle mission

July 8, 2011 8:07:51 PM PDT
When the shuttle Atlantis lifted off safely from Cape Canaveral, it was literally the beginning of the end.

NASA Ames at Moffett Field in Mountain View may have been the best place locally to watch the space shuttle take off.

"I fear it may be the last time I see an American fly into space sponsored by the U.S. Government," one space fan said.

Each shuttle felt different. Over their lifetime, they cost twice as much money as predicted. Two disasters cost fourteen lives.

During their thirty years, our perception of space flight changed from miraculous to almost mundane for some reason, even though it never was.

"When the shuttle is on the ground, we will breathe our last sigh of relief," said Frank Kmak.

Kmak runs the wind tunnels at NASA Ames. When scientists learned how foam damaged heat shield tiles on the Space Shuttle Columbia, Kmak was the man who took a model into the tunnel, making a potentially life or death call.

"They brought in samples with 24 hours, and I certified it would survive," Kmak said

As Atlantis launched today, it carried many more people with her than the literal crew of four.

Cumulatively, the space shuttle program has seen 135 missions, 21,000 orbits and 537 million miles traveled, and still counting.

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