Part of me had hoped the crew of space shuttle Atlantis would go rogue and refuse to return to Earth. Maybe just for a short joyride, a few extra orbits and the proud proclamation, "You'll never clip our wings!"
But the astronauts landed right on schedule. It marked a safe and successful close to NASA's 30-year shuttle program.
Space fans around the world are experiencing mixed emotions with this milestone. Some say it's a sad day for America, left without a way of lifting humans into orbit. They remark with irony that Russia has now won the space race, as U.S. astronauts will be forced to buy rides on Soyuz. FULL POST
Around T-5 minutes to the launch of shuttle Atlantis, I overhear a man say, "The uncertainty makes it exciting." Thousands of us have been sitting in the Rocket Garden of Kennedy Space Center for the last five hours. And in the last few minutes, butterflies started to flutter in my stomach. We were so close... but the blast off could still be called off at any second.
The odds seemed stacked against Atlantis lifting off on the first try. Clouds rolled in overnight Thursday and refused to blow over. NASA rated the weather as only 30% favorable for launch. "The Sunshine State" was not living up to its nickname... and was threatening to disappoint around one million space fans.
We had arrived at KSC shortly after 5 in the morning. The last thing I heard on the radio was an announcer saying, "You know that shuttle launch today? Not gonna happen. It's raining." The security guard at the front gate also joked, "The launch is cancelled." I didn't laugh.
Our office recently started recycling glass. Most of the collection centers I've found in Hong Kong do not take glass. And while my apartment building has signs warning residents not to throw trash out of their windows, there are none urging them to save the Earth and recycle. It's definitely different from the U.S., where some cities collect plastic, paper and glass curbside. And it's a far cry from Japan, where recycling is a law.
Countries vary in their approaches to waste management on Earth. But when it comes to trash in space, there is international consensus that it's an important problem. A near miss between the International Space Station and an unknown piece of debris has drawn renewed attention to the growing danger.
Usually ISS can dodge orbiting space junk, but this was spotted too late. Instead, the six-member ISS crew had to seek shelter in the Soyuz capsules docked to the station. NASA estimates the object passed about 335 meters from ISS. That's believed to be the closest encounter ever.
This is only the second time that a space station crew has taken shelter in the Soyuz. The first was in March 2009, when a bit of satellite rocket motor flew close by.
That incident happened one month after a defunct Russian satellite accidentally collided with a U.S. satellite. NASA says that created more than 2,000 trackable bits of debris.
So just how much trash is up there? Take a look.
Fourteen days and counting! Space shuttle Atlantis is set to launch in exactly two weeks. The crew has completed a countdown rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center. Technicians are carrying out pre-flight tests.
And around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are finalizing their plans to watch Atlantis liftoff. I am one of them.
News Stream had the good luck of covering Discovery's launch live back in February. It was awesome. I just couldn't miss the chance to see the last-ever shuttle blast away from Launch Pad 39A.
Up to a million other people feel the same way. Yes, that could be how many astro-nuts turn up for NASA's ultimate shuttle send-off. And I'm betting more than a couple will be first-timers like me.
So I turned to the experts for advice: CNN's John Zarrella and Miami bureau supervising producer Kim Segal.
John has seen roughly 75 launches. (To put that in perspective, Atlantis is STS-135.) Though maybe I should say he has attended that many. John points out that while covering a launch, "I never get to really see one…!!! I’m facing the camera with launch pad behind me. But I do cheat and take a peak."
Which leads into what I consider his most important words of wisdom, "I would add…enjoy the moment. Look at it. Forget about taking a picture. You can buy better pictures of shuttles than you can take!!!"
Kim kindly indulged me even further and answered every question I could think of. Here they are:
Update: Launch scrubbed over problems with Auxiliary Power Unit 1 heaters. Next earliest attempt is Sunday.
As I watch all the fuss over the royal wedding, I can't help but think about the day's other big event... and equally moving love story.
Space shuttle Endeavour is set to launch on its final flight roughly 7 and a half hours after Prince William and Kate Middleton –er, I mean the new Duchess of Cambridge– kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Fitting that on a day dominated by the British monarchy, NASA would launch its most British shuttle. Of course I only refer to the name. Ever wonder why the U.S. space agency would use a UK spelling for Endeavour?
Blame the kids...
A lot of people are going to hate this blog post. To all those people, I’d just like to take a quick moment to say: “Suck it up, haters”.
Here’s the deal. Some people are lost in space. Some, like me, are lost in space-related conversation. I just don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. I will never get it.
When most of my colleagues watch the Yuri Gagarin video from five decades ago, they gasp in awe. When I watch it, I struggle not to choke on my own vomit.
It's hard to imagine what Yuri Gagarin was thinking on April 12, 1961. He was about to do what no human had done before: enter the heavens. What would he see? And would he survive?
The final countdown is under way for NASA's shuttle program. OK, the clock has been ticking for awhile. It just didn't feel real until Discovery came back down to Earth.
But Discovery still has one big trip left: a museum. Several institutions are hoping to land the shuttle permanently. My hometown of Houston estimates such an exhibit would bring in $45 million annually for the local economy.
Houston has an online pitch to "Bring the Shuttle Home." But I'm bracing for disappointment. Let's face it... Houston doesn't win a lot. Just ask any sports fan in the city. We won the NBA championships in 1994 and 1995... and no national titles since. (I'm not counting the MLS or WNBA.)