The launch countdown was peppered with tributes to the shuttle's launch team. The "closeout crew" who locked the commander and his crew safely into the cockpit emerged from the white room – the environmentally controlled chamber that docks with the cockpit door – holding signs with the message: "On behalf of all who have designed and built, serviced and loaded, launched and controlled, operated and flown these magnificent space vehicles … Thank you for 30 years with our nation's space shuttles! Godspeed Atlantis! God bless America!"
But with just 31 seconds to go, the clock was stopped after a sensor falsely reported the shuttle's "beanie cap" covering the external fuel tank had not retracted, but it was a minor issue that delayed the launch by only three minutes. Despite the hitch, Nasa officials described the launch as "flawless".
Atlantis then climbed through cloud on its nine-minute journey into orbit, leaving a thick plume of smoke in the air and shaking the ground with the rumble from its three powerful engines.
"I'm sat here with a tear in my eye," said Bill Nelson, a retired astronaut who flew a mission aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1986 and who is now a staunch defender of Nasa as US Senator for Florida.
"There's a lot of emotion here because an era is passing, and jobs are going with that passing. But in 30 years of space shuttle activity, look at what we've learned, look at the technologies we've developed."
When I realized today was the last space shuttle launch, I was upset and dissappointed. I immediately reacted like the president and tried to point my finger at someone on whome I could place blame. Why would we close NASA?
Well, we aren't closing NASA.
I say again, we are not closing NASA, we just are not using government innovation to build space shuttles and the shuttles we have are old enough to retire. Instead, the future of America's travels into space will rely on vessels manufactured by private companies. I am sure that is no comfort to those who are losing their jobs building space shuttles. Hopefully, private industry has a desire for space travel and they can pick up some of the folks who used to build space shuttles.
Other than the layoffs, I thing this is a good thing. In an economic environment such as the one we are in now, we need to reduce government spending by cutting unneccesarry programs. Space travel, while compelling, is not necessary now. We could also cut funding to programs like PBS, NPR, and the National Endowment for the Arts--all nice projects, of course, but not necessary during a bad economy.
By cutting uneccessary spending, we don't have to threaten to raise taxes. When people pay fewer taxes, they have more money to spend and to give to charitable organizations of their choice. This leads to greater consumer confidence that will drive our economy back into a positive direction.