It is with some bitter-sweetness that I write this as the Space Shuttle has ben a large part of my life. Today was the very last, completely final, never-going-to-happen-again launch of the Space Shuttle or Space Transportation System. The Mission designation was STS-135 and the Orbiter was Atlantis. Liftoff occured at 11:26 AM EST on the storied launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the place where America has been launching her astrounauts since May 1961. Although the weather could have been better, the launch was absolutely perfect, which was great seeing as how they've been having trouble getting the last couple of launches to go off on time.
As I said, the Shuttle has had, up until now, a very potent presence in my life. After the Challenger disaster in January 1986 (I would be born eight months later), my Dad was hired with a company called United Space Booster Inc. or USBI, as an engineer. USBI was part of United Technologies as I recall. So because of Dad's work and the fact we lived in Rocket City, USA (Huntsville, AL), we were always watching the launches on TV and got to go into Dad's work several times to see what he and the guys were up to. This is largely why I've become such a big space history buff. Here are some pictures I took back in September 2010 of Dad and I at KSC with Shuttle Orbiter Endeavour:
Lastly, I thought it would be fitting to add some dates here at the end of this post to give some perspective--
First flight: May 5, 1961
Last Flight: May 15, 1963
March 23, 1965 (Gemini III was the first manned flight, there were two that came before)
November 11, 1966
Apollo 1: January 27, 1967 (Never flown but not forgotten)
Apollo 7: October 11, 1968
Apollo 17 (last lunar mission): December 7, 1972
Apollo-Soyuz: July 15, 1975
Space Shuttle Program-
STS-1 Columbia: April 12, 1981
STS-135 Atlantis: July 8, 2011
Addendum: Because the Space Shuttle program used multiple Orbiters, I feel the following should be noted: OV-102 Columbia, last flight on January 16, 2003 (destroyed during reentry February 1); OV-099 Challenger, last flight on January 27, 1986 (destroyed 73 seconds after liftoff); OV-103 Discovery, last flight on February 11, 2011; OV-104 Atlantis, last flight on July 8, 2011; OV-105 Endeavour, last flight on May 16, 2011
Additional: OV-101 Enterprise flew multiple times in atmosphere but never in space.