2 minute readFirst person: The final countdown

If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One… Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.

Although J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, recalled this verse from the Bhagvad Gita after witnessing the first nuclear explosion, for some reason, your correspondent remembered this recollection, while watching the last launch of the OV (Orbital Vehicle)-104, better known as the space shuttle Atlantis.

The engines pounded away into your correspondent’s chest, as he watched the brilliant flame that pushed the shuttle from the launch pad, at a distance of almost four miles from the press site observation area, into the clear skies above and beyond in a matter of a few seconds, and into Low Earth Orbit in barely four or five minutes.

No television footage can come close to comparing with the experience of watching those solid-fuel rocket boosters and main engines display so much raw power by design. What’s equally overwhelming is a realization of the hundreds of thousands of man-hours that must have gone into preparing a space shuttle to launch and be pushed into orbit, and then have the crew perform their mission and return safely. And let’s not even get started on the technologies involved.

This was the final countdown for the Atlantis and 12 days from now, the OP-104 will retire after it returns. The other two shuttles, Discovery and Endeavor will retire by the end of the year as well, ending the space shuttle program. This was a piece of space history that your correspondent witnessed, just before the time of writing.

Your correspondent’s visit to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the Atlantis launch was facilitated by the Boeing Company.

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