Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday - Space Shuttle

Photograph by John Raoux / AP Photo

Many newspapers ran the AP photo of the space shuttle taking off for the last time from Cape Canaveral on Tuesday, April 17, 2012, bound for Washington DC to be part of the Smithsonian Museum.  The development of America's space shuttle program began in early 1970, the first sub-orbiter flight was in 1981, and the first full mission was initiated in 1983.

Photograph from Wikipedia Common
All shuttle flights were launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  If flight conditions were favorable the preferred landing place was back at the Space Center.  If conditions were not favorable the shuttle would land at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  If that was the case the shuttle was mounted on the back of a modified Boeing 747 and carried back to Florida.

Photo by GW Bill Miller aka Tulsa Gentleman in summer 1979
I was a computer analyst for American Airlines from 1968 to 1998 and was located on the same property as the big Maintenance and Engineering Center in Tulsa.  When I drove to work one morning in the summer of 1979 there was an amazing sight on the horizon.  There was a Boeing 747 standing 63.5 feet high with a space shuttle of 58.5 feet high perched on its back.  Together they were as high as a 12 story building.  We knew that American Airlines sold one of its jumbos to NASA in 1974 but had never seen one carrying a shuttle.  It just looked enormous.  I couldn't imagine how anything that big and heavy could possibly fly.  At that time American had contracted to do the maintenance of the aircraft and they had  stopped for something on their way to Florida.

The buzz was that it was going to take off at noon so a large group of us decided take our lunch over to the wire fence that separated the plant from the airport runway to see if this monstrosity would actually fly.  Sure enough they started up the engines about 12:30 and got every thing ready.  The turbines wound up with plenty of noise then it started to move, slowly at first then sped up quickly, rotated the nose up and lifted off the ground light as a feather.  It didn't even use much runway as we in the peanut gallery cheered and clapped.

The American Eagle logo had been removed from the tail and replaced with NASA, but the silver fuselage still carried American's red, white, and blue stripes from nose to tail.  It would be replaced by a single black stripe in 1983.  The first shuttle flight was a sub-orbital flight in 1981, and the first fully operational flight was in 1983.  The last mission was in 2011 and the 3 remaining shuttles are going to museums for us to enjoy, one to the Smithsonian, one to Los Angeles, and one will remain at the space center at Cape Canaveral.

This rambled on to be a longer post than I intended, especially for a Wordless Wednesday.  I hope you found it interesting.

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PerthDailyPhoto said... [Reply to comment]

It was interesting Bill, what a sight to come across, did you take the bottom image, or were you not camera equipped at the time. I bet now your camera goes most place with you!

Yogi♪♪♪ said... [Reply to comment]

What a sight Bill. Thanks for sharing your photograph and story.

caite said... [Reply to comment]

what great photos, and wonderful memories.

Snowcatcher said... [Reply to comment]

I did indeed find it very interesting! I'm so glad you got to see a shuttle live and in person! It sends waves of excitement through the veins. I was in Alamogordo, New Mexico, when Columbia landed at Space Harbor. I hate to see these things shelved but am so glad they will be on display where others can enjoy them.

DrillerAA said... [Reply to comment]

I do remember looking into the Tulsa sky in 1979 and seeing that awesome site. Like you, I had a hard time believing anything that large could fly.
We went to the Kennedy Space Center a few years ago. I believe that one of the shuttles will stay in Florida, one will go to Washington D.C. and the third will travel to California for permanent display. We have lived through a great era in US history and the history of flight.