Saturday, September 22, 2012

To Endeavour is to Succeed

I hope everyone had the opportunity to see the last aerial hurrah of Space Shuttle Endeavour last Friday. It didn't matter that it would be hitching a ride on the back of a modified 747. It would still be amazing.

The local news had hyped up the flight for days. Rightfully so as once the shuttle hit the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, it was destined for a slow ground crawl to its final resting spot, the California Science Center.

When I woke up I turned on KRON-4. I figured they would have the best news coverage, and not be hindered by network affiliation. Amazingly, they stayed live with the flight all the way from its take-off from Edwards Air Force Base.

Another amazing thing was that NASA actually delayed the flight by one hour because they wanted to make sure the any fog hand burned off here in the Bay Area. How cool is that?

Getting close to the estimated 9:30a appearance in the Bay Area, I grabbed my camera and zoom lens. I hadn't shot anything in months and couldn't find my tele-extender, which irked me a little. But, you make do with what you have.

I also didn't know from where the shuttle would appear because the FAA was keeping quiet the exact flight path Endeavour would be taking. Some armchair investigators had cobbled together approximate routes based on available info and people they knew. The most common route would have her fly out over the bay from Emeryville. Fortunately, I saw another one that showed her flying over land all the way up the East Bay to Richmond.

Due to delays coming up the Central Valley and parading around Sacramento, the shuttle didn't actually reach central Contra Costa County until around 10am.

I headed outside to take a position on the other side of the street from my house and then checked Twitter once more. Someone had just posted she was over the Rockridge BART station.

One of my neighbors was leaving his house and came over as his car was parked next to where I was standing. I told him what I was waiting for, nervous Endeavour would sneak up on me while we were talking.

Suddenly, I could hear the dull roar of the engines. But from where???? Then a gray blob appeared off in the distance, somewhere over Berkeley.

The plane slowly sauntered over the cities, lower than any plane of that size which I could remember. While I had a good view, it must have been stellar for anyone further up Solano Avenue. I can only hope teachers in the Albany schools let their students out to watch.

I was able to fire off, give or take, 20 shots. Many were garbage, with autofocus catching an errant wire or phone pole. Some people say it spoils to watch something through a camera view finder. In this circumstance it was a help, not a hindrance.

Just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone; headed towards Richmond, and then over to the Marin Headlands for a couple of loops before pointing South.

* * *

My first introduction to the Space Shuttle program was somewhere back about 1972. Every week I looked forward to receiving the newest copy of My Weekly Reader, a topical newspaper given out to students when I attended Fairmont Elementary School. The issue I'm thinking of talked about the upcoming Skylab program.

On the back was a diagram about future space programs and had Skylab (1973), Apollo-Soyuz Mission (1975) and the Space Shuttle program (1980). That seemed so far off at the time.

Fast-forward to April 1981, and the maiden space flight of Columbia. This was in the days before my family had a VCR. We had a movie camera though, and I had recently discovered a half dozen Kodak film cartridges!! I was determined to record this for prosperity (Ignore that fact it was silent film!).

I'd marked the living room floor with masking tape so I could set the tripod quickly. I thought I was all set. Everything was ready…except there were no nine volt batteries!! Mind you this was something like 3am. Not to be deterred I found a whole bunch of D-cells and some wire. The idea was to use electrical tape to create a circuit between the batteries and camera handle.

(It was probably fortunate that it didn't work as it probably would have shorted out my father's expensive Nizo-Braun S480).

Resolved to just watching the coverage, I received a reprieve when NASA delayed the mission due to weather conditions in Florida. I took this as a sign and silently snuck out of the house and took the Chevette in search of proper batteries. I let the car roll down the steep hill before starting the engine, and I can only imagine how my father would have freaked if he'd seen the car gone.

Scoring batteries from Jay-Vee Liquors, I returned home only to hear the mission was delayed yet again. It eventually flew, and I eventually filmed it. Film which is still sitting in a box somewhere, unprocessed.

* * *

Like most Americans I became complacent as shuttle missions became common and routine. Even broadcast television stopped carrying launches live after a while. Sadly, it took the Challenger and Columbia disasters for many of us to pay any attention to NASA anymore.

Now the Space Shuttle program has come and gone, with no immediate replacement. Adding insult to injury Astronauts are hitching rides to the International Space Station aboard Soviet designed rockets.

Hopefully, America's enthusiasm will be fired up once again by Curiosity's recent escapades, and we will endeavour towards eventual manned flight to Mars.

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