Discovery’s final flight / April 17, 2012
Yesterday Space Shuttle Discovery made its final flight, as it was transferred atop a Boeing 747 from Florida to Washington, destined to become a museum exhibit after 27 years of service and 39 missions to space. Coverage of the journey was all over the web and TV, as it made a dramatic flypast over the Washington skyline.
One of the best things that I ended up watching though, was this CBS special news report from August 1977. If you’ve got 30 minutes to spare, check it out on YouTube. This ‘Approach and Landing Test’ was the first time a Space Shuttle flew on its own. Piggy-backing in the same way on a 747, the Shuttle climbed to 24,00 ft, before astronauts Fred Haise and Gordon Fullerton performed a separation and guided it to the runway for the first time.
The documentary makes for compelling watching — not least because of some beautiful 70s graphics; just check out those Polaroid and CBS logos, nice! — but because, 35 years ago, NASA and the world dreamed these vehicles would be making 100+ trips into orbit over their lifetime, making space travel a routine, cheap and frequent exercice. It’s interesting to watch, noting this sense of optimism and excitement, and to think back on what the Shuttle program did and didn’t achieve over the last 30 years.