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The First Wave of the Long Goodbye

Nick the NASA Poobah taught me that it is tradition at the Kennedy Space Center for  employees to claim as theirs the orbiter they first see with their own eyes, unfiltered by the  brief, barely-polite launch coverage curving out at a rushing human race from a television screen.  Mine is Atlantis.

I saw her as she landed.  I was at the Kennedy Space Center interviewing for the job which I would later take, the one which cupped me in Central Florida for years, long after it wasn't my job anymore.  I wore a blue sundress and leaned against a viewing gantry, tensing for the enormous sonic booms which, I was assured, would herald the arrival of the lady Atlantis.

The actual moment was something like my first kiss: I wasn't precisely sure what had happened, but I was fairly certain that it was a colossal letdown.  The double BOOM-BOOM  promised in the shuttle material I'd been reading all my life was more of two half-assed pops, one fainter than the next.  There had been a crosswind at my back, carrying my Grand Introductory Shuttle Moment out to sea.  None of this was Atlantis' fault, of course, and as she whizzed overhead I snapped her picture and jumped up and down and forgave her anyway.  When the photos were developed (we "developed" "photographs" back in these days, boys and girls) I stuck white reinforcement rings around the returning orbiter so I wouldn't lose her in the slanting sun.

She has seen her last launch now, valiant girl, the Jan of the shuttle bunch.  Oh, Atlantis was the baby for quite some time, with Columbia the mommy and Enterprise seething in her dowager way from the Air and Space Museum.   And now Discovery has taken up the mantle of the matriarch and this upstart Challenger-replacing new baby Endeavour has taken her place, and, oh, what's special about Atlantis?  Should she dye her hair?

Well, she's mine and she's an all-around gymnast, and today commander Kenneth Ham announced that he was taking her out of the barn for "a few more laps around the planet."  In September Discovery flies for the last time, and then, in November, Endeavour.  They're calling it "the Long Goodbye."  I am calling it The Long Gaze Into Absolutely Nothing.

Today I was seeking out video clips of  shuttle landings for this, and came upon a double sonic boom, and for absolutely no reason--   for every reason in the world, actually-- burst into tears when I heard it.

One of the commentators on NASA TV was discussing the closeout crew as they secured the hatch and headed down the gantry.  One member has been on hand since Columbia's first flight.  “I’m sure he’s looking forward to... um... other duties that are going to be assigned,”  the commentator said.  Yes, and those duties would be....?  Slamming the driver's door closed on a recently-financed Honda at a used car lot?

Not all was tears and piss-flinging at NTV, however; when the crew was in the midst of the first orbit, the Public Affairs Officer began a sentence with, "As the crew continues its post-insertion activities...", which topped off the following white room pronouncement:  "They're going to pull the probe and put the hatch cap on."  Come on, that alone was worth the half a billion you and I just blew on that liftoff.

(After the closeout crew buttons the orbiter down, by the way, you know what they do?  They remove the handle.  They REMOVE THE HANDLE.  You're either launching, or you are left to eat your way out.)

But still.  I didn't know it would end like this, Atlantis--you towing the beginning of the end, me watching helplessly from on high in Colorado.

You have fun out there, girl.  Bundle up and keep warm on the slopes.

into the sunset at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (6)

[...] May 14th, 2010 | Just Published | morningworksmedia As Atlantis launches for the final time, Mary Beth does, of course, some crying.  But also some snickering at the expense of NASA TV.  It’s all about the probes and the [...]

I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

Thumbs up, and keep it going!

May 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWagoThatt

" “I’m sure he’s looking forward to… um… other duties that are going to be assigned,” the commentator said. And those duties would be….? Slamming the driver’s door closed on a recently-financed Honda at a used car lot?"

Hey... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voPP2vUaylI" rel="nofollow">you never know :)

May 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

[...] Mary Beth’s Events and Readings ← The First Wave of the Long Goodbye [...]

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June 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIt Box
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