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Space Shuttle Endeavour

Bob’s View of Endeavour

Geoffrey, Chad and BobProducers Chad Campbell, Geoffrey Redick and I were at the Kennedy Space Center (also known as KSC) at Cape Canaveral, Florida for the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour on November 14th, 2008. STS-126 was NASA’s official designation for the mission, which successfully completed a 16-day trip to the International Space Station (also known as ISS). By the way, STS is short for Space Transportation System, as you may have guessed NASA uses a lot of abbreviations and acronyms.

It’s impossible to work in satellite radio and not feel a debt to the space program, but satellites have been important throughout my career. In 1980, my previous employer, NPR became the the first broadcast network in either radio or TV to distribute all its programs to stations by satellite. At the end of the first Persian Gulf War, I did my first interview by satellite telephone. My guest was in Baghdad, a place where phone lines were atrocious—-but the satphone made him sound like he was in the same room with me. The future had arrived and the world was suddenly a smaller place.

We boomers like the space program because we watched it being born—-it’s our fellow boomer of roughly the same age. In 2008, NASA celebrated it’s 50th anniversary, and 53 years ago I was 11, a very impressionable age.

The original rocket wizard was Robert Goddard (inventor of the bazooka), whose experiments in the 1920’s made headlines.Twenty years later, Wernher von Braun used Goddard’s research and technology to develop the V-2 rockets that carried bombs to Britain during World War II. Other Nazi’s were hanged, but the United States put von Braun on the payroll. Our space program’s earliest rockets were the work of our former enemy.

If you’ve seen The Right Stuff, the movie based on Tom Wolfe’s book about the earliest astronauts, you know that it opens with news film of many of those early American rockets blowing up on the launch pad. Thank goodness they carried no humans! Futility and ineptness plagued the space program in the 1950’s. In 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth, the United States went into full panic. Sputnik beamed an obnoxious-sounding radio signal back to earth that we took it to be an audible insult to our science and technology. The Soviets were saying “screw you” and might potentially make good on Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s boast that he would bury us. The effect on us school children was immediate. We were blitzed with lots of new math and science curricula. I’d probably know a lot more Robert Frost today if the Soviets had not beaten us into space.

Those godless Reds beat us again in 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first human space traveler. Now the U.S.was really p.o.’d. President Kennedy made the outrageous promise that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Absolutely everyone connected with the space program at that time has said that when Kennedy spoke those words, no one had a clue as to how they could make that happen. Alan Shepherd became our first Mercury astronaut in space and the country was captivated by his adventure. I was shocked when my school installed a television set so that we could watch history in the making. Classroom TV’s are routine now, but in 1961, a TV set in a classroom was like a loud drunk in church. They were ruining TV for us—-turning the source of our goofing off into an educational tool—-how dare they!

When John Glenn made three orbits of the earth in 1963, he was feted at the White House and got a ticker tape parade in New York. We were on our way—-and sure enough—-we were on the moon in the summer of 1969, just under the deadline, though JFK did not live to see his promise redeemed. It was a stunning accomplishment that cannot be scoffed at——and I am a born cynic!

The space program is responsible for a lot of modern technology we take for granted. The ubiquitous cell phone might have been developed at some point down the line, but I’m sure we sill would not have them if there hadn’t been a need for miniature circuitry for space. We joke about Tang, Teflon and Velcro, but the space program has delivered so much more. Space flight is routine now, but not for those pioneers who are part of the program. Twenty-three courageous souls have given their lives to advance our knowledge of space. They died in the Apollo One fire, the launch explosion of Challenger, the re-entry disintegration of Columbia and on training flights. They were young people with knowledge and skills our country needed.

Bob lit solely by Endeavour’s glowAbout 7pm on Friday, November 14th, 2008, less than an hour before launch time, a gorgeous full moon rose above Cape Canaveral and sent its luminous reflections across the water separating us from the launch pad. I thought immediately of the Apollo program and how this would have been the “money shot” for photographers—the destination hanging there just to the right of the rocket that would thrust the Eagle toward the lunar surface. But there were no night launches back then. The launch I witnessed was the last night launch in the shuttle program which is scheduled to conclude next month.

Standing just three miles away as NASA lit that candle and sent Endeavour into space, I got the rush of a lifetime! More brave human beings were putting their lives on the line so that we will all know a little more about the universe. And we cannot know enough! When we’re finished destroying this planet, we’re going to need someplace to go and we’re going to need to know how to survive there. The crew of STS-126 added a bit more to that knowledge. We are all in their debt.

- Bob


Chad’s View of Endeavour

Click here to see more of the pictures I took on the trip

Click here to learn more about NASA and the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Pat Duggins reports on the space program for NPR and now for Alabama Public Radio, where he serves as news director. For years, he reported for public radio station WMFE in Orlando, Florida. Duggins is the author of Final Countdown about the end of the shuttle program. 

See astronaut Robert Satcher’s impressive bio. He served as mission specialist aboard STS-129 in November 2009.

Here’s a link to the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which was put into orbit by astronaut Catherine Coleman and shuttle mission STS-93 in 1999.

Here are some great photos of the launch taken by professional photographers.

Way back in late July, Bob sent an email to the staff suggesting a trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida to see a shuttle launch. He had ulterior motives since he also wanted to visit his daughter Eleanor who lives in nearby Orlando. Geoffrey and I both wrote back expressing our interest, then nothing happened. We all got back to our busy daily lives of producing, writing, reading, researching and interviewing. Once we got to mid-October, I set aside some time to think more about our possible trip to Florida, and wrote up a little description of what we might do and came up with a budget.  The trip wasn’t approved until November 5th and the shuttle was scheduled to launch on November 14th. That, as you may notice, is less than two weeks. I still had to find airline tickets, reserve hotel rooms and book a rental car…not to mention plan the trip and book interviews and prepare myself and Bob for those interviews. Luckily I had already submitted requests to NASA for our media badges at the Kennedy Space Center…just in case we actually got to go on the trip. We made things up as we went along, not at all like NASA launches these days. First we had a little trouble finding the right building to pick up our media badges at the Kennedy Space Center. Then we went back across the water to Titusville where we hoped to find fans gathering for that night’s launch. Since there were still 10 hours to go, I wasn’t sure we’d find anyone at Space View Park. But they were there already and we made our first recordings of the trip. Then we had lunch and drove back to the Kennedy Space Center to figure out what we’d do next. We got to NASA’s press area at 1pm and met up with Pat Duggins as he was setting up for his day at KSC.  He showed us the lay of the land and we agreed to reconvene for our interview at 4pm. We checked out the inside of the press center which was buzzing with activity.  We were too late to get a seat inside so we set up the Bob Edwards Florida Bureau at a picnic table just outside the door. We signed up for slots to interview astronauts Catherine Coleman and Robert Satcher. And we got dinner from a big van parked behind the press center with the NASA logo and the words “Snack Mobile” on its side.  All you need to know about that meal is that the unofficial name for the van is the “Roach Coach.” With just 30 minutes left until the 7:55pm launch of Endeavour, we decided to leave one of our two digital audio recorders inside the auditorium to record the live NASA feed, while Geoffrey sat next to Pat Duggins to record him as he described the launch to his listeners in Orlando. That left nothing for me and Bob to do but watch, listen and marvel. Here’s what we saw. I made a movie of the launch with one camera and took pictures with another. It was pitch dark out there, but when the big digital clock hit zero it literally looked like the sun was rising. You only have the opportunity to witness two more launches before NASA concludes the Space Shuttle program. Endeavour is scheduled to blast off on Monday, May 16, and the final flight of Atlantis is set for sometime in June. I highly recommend seeing one of those in person.



Geoffrey’s View of Endeavour


On many of these trips, I’m the guy holding the microphones. That means no matter what happens, no matter what anybody else says, I have to stay quiet. Usually, that’s not a problem. But this time, when Space Shuttle Endeavour lifted off and rocketed through a halo of clouds in the night, keeping my mouth shut was nearly impossible. The beauty and power were indescribable, and as the shuttle streaked into orbit, I found myself silently mouthing, “Wow, wow, wow” over and over.

This was the first time I’d ever seen a shuttle launch in person. Heck, this was the first time I’d been to Florida. Truthfully, I was one of those people who felt indifferent about the shuttle program. I was seven when Challenger exploded, and that felt pretty close, with a school teacher on board. But since then, I hadn’t paid much attention to the missions. I realize now what I had ignored. A shuttle launch just might be the most controlled and over-planned event you could ever witness. It has serious purpose. But the other part is inescapable. It’s enough to make strangers gather in Space View Park, stand shoulder to shoulder, and cheer as Endeavour breaks away from Earth. There was no jumbotron, no grinning pop culture icon stoking the crowd. Only pure amazement.

Here’s a video of a previous night launch taken from Titusville, about 12 miles from the launch pad.