Today Endeavour, atop the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) #NASA905, made a pit-stop at Ellington (EFD). A simple, but eloquent thank you for all of our hard work over the years. Flyovers at numerous Houston locations allowed her to say a small goodbye. I chose to watch the flyovers at JSC Rocket Park because I had seen ALL my flyovers at JSC. Of course, the benefit there was multiple passes including right over my head at less than 1500 feet!
But the moving part of this story (to me at least) was that I was here for her very first trip to Houston in 1991. On her way to KSC from Palmdale where she was born, I was given my second up-close view of a space shuttle orbiter. The first came soon after starting work at NASA. I travelled to KSC and was given the rare privilege of visiting Atlantis on the pad - even stuck my head inside her flight deck from the White Room! The Rotating Service Structure (RSS) was in place - so I had an up-close view of the cracked and repaired space "aged" tiles.
At that time, Endeavour was a far cry from her experienced sister. She was new and shiny - a virgin. I had a fellow Space Tweep snap a pic of me yesterday in front of the "space aged" Endeavour while I was holding my first photo taken in front of her from 1991.
My third up-close view was of Columbia and was in 1994. We were allowed to go inside the SCA and up through the hatch below the orbiter. It is there we saw the infamous "PLACE ORBITER HERE BLACK SIDE DOWN". I had no camera on me that day and never got that photo - one of my largest regrets of my career... I had hoped to get that chance again today! Because it would be the very last time... EVER. However, with so many public visitors (reported that 100,000 people flocked to Ellington Field to see her), that option did not arise. Which is okay - my name and twitter handle are on that very SCA and will make that last flight with her!
One last thought about my connection to Endeavour... With deep connections to Atlantis (first orbiter, most Mir flights, and been inside of her) and Discovery (um, dad's death and hence GodspeedDiscvry), Challenger (obvious), and Columbia (again, obvious - but also I helped find and pick up debris - I mean, I held pieces of her in my hand), I wasn't sure what Endeavour meant to me until this week.
She is the only existing orbiter I did not see make her final launch. Something told me not to make that drive to KSC... a rising creek and possible pending flood at Flint, and just this gut feeling - someone up there was telling me not to go. I fought it, but eventually said "Well, if there was one orbiter to miss, it would be this one." I ended up missing Dallas area tornadoes, all of the horriffic southeastern US outbreak of storms that I would have been driving right through - and of course, we ended up not launching on that attempt. Having said "If there was one..." and circumstances for being away from work for the next attempt, I let her launch without me.
So I find it fitting that this visit cemented what exactly my connection was with her. My Houston experience with Endeavour ended exactly where it started, at Ellington Field, book-ending Endeavour's 25 flight space history.
It is fitting that Armstrong's public memorial service tomorrow will be at the Washington National Cathedral. The cathedral has a rather special stained glass window. As identified in the below article, a moon rock was given to the church to incorportae into the "space window".
The moon rock is in the center of the red swirl (solar sphere) and the thin white line circling one of the spheres symbolizes a manned spaceship exploring the universe. How did a moon rock find its way into a cathedral that construction began just after Kitty Hawk? The south windows had been designed to represent the gifts that people use
to serve God. This particular opening was indeed designated for the “scientists
and technicians” window.
The window was designed by Rodney Winfield of St. Louis (see below for video interview). He created the design "to symbolize the macrocosm and microcosm of space.
Radiations of light emanate from numerous solar spheres. Shining through
deep colors are white dots symbolizing stars. The thin white trajectory
encircling a sphere depicts a manned space ship. Winfield wanted to
show the minuteness of humanity in God’s universe. Inspiration for the
window’s design and color palette came from photographs taken during the
Apollo 11 mission." The window was donated to the Cathedral by the NASA Director at the time of the Apollo 11 flight. Once it was received, the dean of the cathedral had the idea of embedding a fabulous artifact in the newly donated window - the window was to depict Creation. After two years and a little help from the then NASA Director, a letter from President Nixon announced the gift (full article).
The Apollo 11 sample that was presented at the dedication service was not put into the window until several years later because they were concerned something of so much value would be too easy to get to with scaffolding and the current construction. The article below identifies when the moon rock was installed in the window.
Sign up here to get the downloadable program for the service, the video of the space window dedication, and a high res image of the window.
Interview with Rodney Winfield here with interesting details about how he got involved with the cathedral, designing 13 different versions, and acquiring the moon rock.