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Final shuttle launch bittersweet at Air and Space Museum

By Dan Merica, CNN
Reagan Diesing, 9, watches the shuttle launch Friday with her mother and sister at the Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Reagan Diesing, 9, watches the shuttle launch Friday with her mother and sister at the Air and Space Museum in Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Crowds lines up to see the shuttle launch in the museum
  • "It's sad," says Reagan Diesing, 9, who fears a dream is being abandoned
  • "It was good to be able to see that last one, but sad at the same time," his mother says

Washington (CNN) -- Crowds filled the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington on Friday, as they regularly do during the summer months. This Friday, however, was different, as people lined up outside the building, waiting for the last launch in the shuttle program's 30-year history.

Among them was Reagan Diesing, born in 2002, 21 years after the first shuttle launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The 9-year old Virginian, along with sister Ashlyn and mother Vicki, joined about 275 others who watched the last shuttle launch at the museum.

"It's sad," Reagan said. "... I remember in school learning that everybody wanted to get to space and it was their dream and I am upset that they are just giving it up."

Standing outside the museum, C.C. Chapman of Boston also expressed regret. "It is the end of an era.," he said. "I remember the first shuttle and it is going away, unfortunately."

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The crowd filled the Moving Beyond Earth room 30 minutes before the shuttle was scheduled to launch. Even nine minutes out, there was a buzz in the room as the countdown clock ticked closer to zero. Surrounded by models of the different shuttles and the International Space Station, people exchanged stories about shuttle launches, including some about seeing one at the Kennedy Space Center.

"I remember being a toddler and watching some of the first launches at home in my living room with my family," said Jamie Mitchell from Washington. "And I finally did have a chance to go witness a launch in February of this year, saw the last launch of Discovery, and there is nothing like that."

With a reported 70 percent chance the shuttle would not launch on Friday, people were happy that the countdown passed the five-minute mark. Then the four, the three the two and the one. All was going according to plan when, at 31 seconds, the countdown stopped. Air was sucked from the room, people fretted that they might not witness the historic moment Friday.

"I was a little scared when the countdown stopped," Reagan said.

But it wasn't long before the clock was running again.

As the timer hit 10, people began to count along with the NASA announcer. Six, five, four. People began to cheer. Three, two, one. The room burst into applause, the engines kicked in and people began to celebrate.

The museum curators looked in awe. Children's mouths gaped at the sight. Their parents smiled, perhaps reminiscing about the time they were young and as amazed by a shuttle launch.

"It was bittersweet," said Vicki Diesing, "I was worried that it wouldn't go off because of the weather, but when they stopped the countdown at 30 seconds, you are kind of holding your breath to see if it would really go off. It was good to be able to see that last one, but sad at the same time."

 
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