Friday I will be in Florida.
I have long been a keen learner of all things related to human spaceflight. No technological accomplishments in my lifetime have been more spectacular to me than the 134 NASA Space Shuttle launches and the RSCE Buran launch. So many of the people involved in all levels of both programs have been inspirational at various times in my life. Here is a taste of it.
The first shuttle pilot, John Young, was a quite the test pilot. He is one of only twelve people to have been to the surface of the moon, one of only three to have travelled to the moon twice, and the only person to have piloted four unique spacecraft. Young was the pilot on the first Gemini mission in 1965. In 1966 he commanded Gemini X demonstrating for the first time docking with two separate objects in orbit and travelled higher than had been done before. In 1969 he piloted the Command/Service Module (CSM) on Apollo X and was the first to fly around the moon alone as the Lunar Module crew simulated a landing by descending to within 47,400 feet of the lunar surface. He still holds the record for fastest speed in a manned vehicle after brining the CSM up to 39,897 km/h (11.08 km/s) during the return flight to earth. He set another speed record in 1972 when on the surface of the moon as the commander of Apollo 16; he took the lunar rover up to a “blazing” 18 km/h. During his first day on the moon the US House of Representatives approved funding for the Space Shuttle program. In 1981 Young was the commander of STS-1, the first manned space shuttle. His final space flight was STS-9 where he led a crew of six, the largest single crew complement of a space vehicle at that time. Just before re-entry he decided to “delay” and let the orbiter drift after some anomalous readings during a thruster maneuver. It was later discovered that had he not made his decision to delay, “loss of vehicle and crew would have resulted.” Holy balls. This guy is enough to make any kid want to be an astronaut.
Astronauts are cool, but I have always been even more intrigued by the ultra-nerds who make it all possible. During the launch of Apollo 12, the rocket was struck by lightning twice within a minute of liftoff. Telemetry went wild. On board altitude readings were erratic and mission control could not tell what was going on. Nearly every warning light was on and the mission was about to be aborted when an electronics engineer named John Aaron had an idea. If the signal conditioning equipment (SCE) were damaged then everything could be functional but the readouts would still be wrong. His words, “try SCE to ‘Aux'” baffled most people in mission control and two of the three astronauts but saved the mission. The first time ground staff really made headlines was during the calamity of the infamous Apollo 13 mission. Most people have seen the film and know the gist of the episode. In the film, astronaut Ken Mattingly is portrayed as leading the on-earth group figuring out a way to power-up the CSM for earth re-entry without collapsing the remaining battery power. The aforementioned John Aaron was also the one who actually sorted that out. These guys do a pretty good job of opening your eyes to the ass-kicking done from the ground.
People such as the two mentioned above (and I could list more!) were definitely key influencers in the path that lead me into engineering. I have wanted to personally take in a shuttle launch for as long as I can remember.
I will be in Florida on Friday to watch the 135th and final NASA Space Shuttle launch.