Nikki Garrett Metzger
High Desert Daily
(Victor Valley) – Just before 6am Eastern time yesterday morning, the space shuttle Atlantis landed at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center for the last time, marking the end of the space shuttle era. The shuttle’s arrival was the 25th night landing during the 30-year shuttle program, the 78th landing at Kennedy Space Center, and the 133rd landing in shuttle history.
There has been so much focus on what was essentially a routine mission because this was the final flight for the space shuttle program…and endings always cause people to talk about their fond memories and past experiences.
The High Desert has a unique perspective on the shuttle program because we are so close to Edwards Air Force Base, the primary landing area for the space shuttle until 1991. Since then it has continue to serve as the back-up landing site and has seen space shuttle landings as recently as 2009.
Many High Desert residents have made the trip out to Edwards to see the shuttle land. Michael Knight and Mohammad Alam, friends and realtors in Hesperia, went to Edwards to see the last shuttle land there in September 2009. “I used to go all the time when I was little kid. That was back when you could actually drive up to the runway and watch it roll past you,” said Knight. “We decided to go because it was probably going to be the last time the shuttle landed out there since they were shutting the program down. My wife and my daughter had never seen it land, and neither had Mohammad and his family. So we all went together. It was a lot of fun. We had to park a couple of miles away, but we could see it come in, and it was really incredible.”
“There was the double sonic boom just like I had heard would happen. Then the shuttle came in so fast! I couldn’t believe it! You see if far away in the sky and then it suddenly landed. I was surprised at how big it was,” Alam said. “I thought it was very cool, the first time I had ever seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen it on TV many times.”
Scott Metzger, a massage therapist in Victorville, grew up in California City which is right next to Edwards Air Force Base. He has seen two space shuttles land at Edwards. “I remember as a kid, May 1985, getting up really early, and driving out to Edwards with my parents to watch the Challenger land. It was returning from a mission called Sky Lab 3. I remember hearing the sonic booms and then watching it roll to a stop,” said Metzger. “It was really cool, I was at a radar station and saw it from a distance, but I was close enough to see each person working around it.”
Phill Dupree, a firefighter engineer at Edwards, has been a part of several shuttle landings. He had an up close view as a member of the recovery team that was on standby whenever the shuttle would come into Edwards. “I remember one of the night landings. What was cool was that the base was so quiet because they have to shut everything down when the shuttle is coming in. I think it was 1 or 2 in the morning, and I remember hearing the reverb of the sonic boom, you could hear it pinging off of everything! Then the sonic boom stopped and when the shuttle came in, all you could hear was wind. It got picked up by the lights we had on the runway, and all of a sudden you just saw the shuttle. It was almost like a sci-fi thing. You hear the sonic boom just reverberating around you, then the sound of wind, then this back and white thing right in front of you, and it was over,” said Dupree.
“One of the amazing things to me about the space shuttle is knowing that this airplane was coming back after traveling thousands of miles. To see this thing on TV launch, like a rocket ship, then have the fortune of recovering it and actually being able to touch it, and look at the tiles, and know this thing was up there building a house, it was pretty cool,” said Dupree. “For a plane buff like me, I am amazed by what the shuttle has done.”
As a firefighter engineer, Dupree was part of the recovery team at Edwards for the space shuttle landings. He worked with and trained with the astronauts when they would practice their skills to prepare for landing at the base. “Other than a couple of blown tires, there have never been any ground mishaps at Edwards,” said Dupree.
“There was one time when there was a last minute change in the landing and we had to scramble. The shuttle was supposed to land on the lakebed. But the wind shifted so it couldn’t land there. Now it has to land on the main runway. I was part of the backup team that suddenly became the main team as the shuttle touched down on the runway. There was a cloud of dirt kicked up by the main team as they race to get to the runway, but it landed smoothly, no problem,” said Dupree. “Problem was we had no communication with the shuttle crew, so I had to give them hand signals once they landed.”
After today, NASA will retire its space shuttle fleet, eventually shipping them off to various museums across the country. NASA chose Atlantis, which has been in service since 1985, as the orbiter that will remain at Cape Canaveral; the other shuttles, Discovery and Endeavour, and a test vehicle, Enterprise, will head to museums in the Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City areas, respectively.
Do you have a memory of the space shuttle? Did you have an opportunity to see it land at Edwards? Share it with us! Post your comment below.