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Friday
Mar112011

Head Up, Chin Down

Many people have been very thoughtful.  There have been emails, text messages:  "I read that Discovery landed-- are you doing all right?"  "Are you watching?"  "I know this is important to you, so let me know if you need to talk."

I needed to talk, yes, but there was only one voice I really wanted to hear on the other end of the line.  A few minutes after wheels stop, I heard it.

"Hey, kid.  I've been thinking of you."

It was Nick The NASA Poobah, he who first instructed me in the art of holding a butane torch up against a silica-and-air tile block in a manner most pleasing to the silica, so as to best brag on its ability to shed and block heat.  He was crossing the Kennedy Space Center from a viewing station to an auditorium with an astronaut by his side; his Grand Lady, Discovery, had just been seen in action the very last time; and in his charity thought to check in on his perpetual trainee.  I had been quietly alone, and I was glad I wasn't anymore.

"She landed with her head up and her chin down," he said proudly.  "Beautiful."

You don't take a phone call from a Silver Snoopy Award recipient lightly, not in circumstances such as these, so I told him that Josh The Pilot and I would head to Cocoa Beach as soon as we could, that I needed to see the remaining life in the launchpads before the heavy, dreadful silence sets in.  He told me to hurry:  Endeavor is already at the Vehicle Assembly Building, awaiting transport to the pads. 

The busy homes of the orbiters, the OPF's, have gone dark.  They are no longer needed in the great cycle of an orbiter's life; their employees' only task, the same workforce which boasts many who have dedicated entire careers to one ship, is that of gutting innards and clipping wings in preparation for museumhood. And I notice that the text on these NASA links I load here tell painful lies, for the verb tense is in the present: "Then the orbiter's previous mission payloads are removed and the vehicle is fully inspected, tested, and refurbished for its next mission."

Nick placed roses.  Discovery in her dignity joins her sister Atlantis on the retirement disassembly line.  And so the long goodbye grows shorter, but by no means easier.

One more glide down the beautiful S-turn lane to burn off her orbital velocity on the landing:

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