On Canada Day — July 1, 2012 — I departed my home province of British Columbia to spend five much needed weeks with my fiancé in the Washington, DC area. While here, I thought I would visit some of the wonderful geeky sites the area has to offer. The area has so much to offer, but I had to limit my choices to five things, otherwise I risk overdoing it, giving a lupus flare a backdoor to infect my system with all sorts of nefarious things.
Being the careful planner that I am, I decided on locations that hold extra-special meaning or appeal to me. My final decision was to visit the Space Shuttle Discovery at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, ThinkGeek HQ, Smithsonian American Art Museum to see The Art Of Video Games exhibit, and the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The first two items on this can be marked as, “Achievement Unlocked!”
Ever since I was little and the Canadian Space Agency began its astronaut program, I had dreams of one day joining other female Canadian astronauts, escaping the confines of our planet, and boldly going where few had gone before. Well, to be completely accurate, those dreams were there for as long as I can remember, but that dream became more of a tangible goal with the Canadian astronaut program.
For a lot of reasons, that dream never became a reality. However, that dream helped to fuel my interest in science and math, and caused me to become not only a fan of the Canadian Space Agency, but also a fan of NASA. I’ve watched most of the shuttle launches live, either on regular television or NASA TV. Launches that I could not watch as they were happening, I’ve watched the archived video. I even watched, live, during the tragic loss of both Challenger and Columbia.
I love each of the shuttles. I wish I had the opportunity to watch a launch, in person. With the shuttle program now retired, I will never get to view, in person, the awesome that is lift-off, watching as the shuttle reaches escape velocity, and holding my breathe, hoping that nothing goes wrong, then cheering as she makes her great escape from the Earth’s atmosphere. But out of all of the shuttles, Discovery is my favorite.
As soon as you walk through the doors at the Air and Space Museum, you can see Discovery, as she patiently waits for people to walk over to her, and marvel in the splendor that is a vehicle that took people and equipment into SPACE! As soon as my eyes met her, I started to shake. Finally, after three decades of dreaming, she was almost within reach.
I couldn’t make it across the museum fast enough. The closer I got to her, the more I started to shake. As a result, most of my pictures are blurry. Once I was finally in the bay that is now Discovery‘s home, I didn’t want to leave. I looked into her face for a very long time, and nearly started to cry.
There she was. The shuttle that flew into space more times than all the rest. The shuttle that took the first female Canadian astronaut — Roberta Bondar — into space. The shuttle that took the first Canadian — Julie Payette — to visit the International Space Station. The shuttle that returned to space after both the Challenger and Columbia tragedies. The first shuttle to carry a satellite into space. The shuttle that brought Hubble into space. The shuttle that had the longest mission: 15 days. There she was, close enough to touch, gazing down at all her admirers.
I know I’m personifying her. But she has character. Just look at her face. In a way, the shuttles remind me of an orca whale. She has signs of use. If she could talk… the stories she could tell, not only of her own travels into space, but of all she overheard and witnessed as she transported humans and equipment, protecting them from multiple dangers. And SCIENCE! She made a lot of science possible. She had a good life.
Aside from spending a good hour, just staring and walking around her, amazed that I was breathing the same air as her, I became overjoyed when I saw the Canadarm resting beside her.
I didn’t want to leave Discovery‘s side. But, there was plenty of things to see at the museum, including the marvel of standing underneath a Concorde — what an amazing piece of engineering — and looking at airplanes made from wood and animal skins; some craft so small, they could easily fit into my living-room.
Finally, it was time to leave. So we walked back over to what is now Discovery‘s home, made one final walk around her, and, reluctantly, said good-bye. Slowly, we left the museum — but not before we went to the gift-shop, where we bought ALL THE THINGS — and my brain tried to comprehend exactly what I had just experienced.
10-year-old me was screaming, “OH MY GAWD! IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?!” 36-year-old me was screaming, “When did this become my life? OH MY GAWD! IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?”
Back in the vehicle, my brain replayed the words said as Discovery returned back to Earth for the final time:
Josh Byerly/STS-133 Descent Commentator: Space shuttle Discovery now on final approach to the Kennedy Space Center.
Just more than 30 seconds to go.
Discovery’s gear is down and locked.
Main gear touchdown. The nose of the shuttle being rotated down toward the flight deck.
The parachute being deployed.
And nose gear touchdown and the end of a historic journey.
And to the ship that has led the way time and time again, we say farewell, Discovery.
Steve Lindsey/STS-133 Commander: And Houston, Discovery for the final time, wheel stop.
Charlie Hobaugh/CAPCOM: Discovery, Houston, Pinto, great job by you and your crew. That was a great landing in tough conditions and it was an awesome docked mission that you all had.
You were able to take Discovery up to a full 365 days of actual time on orbit. I think you’d call that a fleet leader and a leader of any manned vehicle for time in orbit.
So, a job well done. We’ll meet you in the post-landing tab for post-landing. Currently no Deltas.
Steve Lindsey/STS-133 Commander: And copy that. Scorch we’re headed to 53 and I’d like to thank you and your team and all the orbit teams for a fantastic mission as well as the Expedition 26 Team on orbit. And I’d also like to thank KSC who has given us a perfect vehicle from start to finish on her final flight.
Charlie Hobaugh/CAPCOM: Well said on all and we totally agree. Thanks
You can watch this historic moment here:
If you are interested in seeing more pictures from my visit to the Air and Space Museum, you can view all 104 photos on Google+.
If you ever find yourself in the DC area, I highly recommend a visit to the Air and Space Museum. If you can wait until 4 pm to make your visit, then it is free. If 4 pm is too late in the day, then it costs $15.00 for parking. If you visit the gift-shop, be prepared to be tempted into spending a lot of money on ALL THE THINGS, including flight suits for your young children.