Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, February 05, 2003
# 1:28:00 AM:

A successful landing

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How did I forget that I saw a space shuttle land once? I just recalled the searing dry lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, in the early to mid-1980s. I can't remember the year exactly. First thing in the morning, my parents and I had driven northeast from San Diego, where we were on holiday, through the mountains, and parked with a vast sea of other shuttle enthusiasts, far enough away from the sheds at the Edwards runway that they were obscured by the heat haze. We sat around for a long time.

Then it appeared, far overhead, a speck in the sky. I had an SLR camera mated to my dad's Celestron 90 cm reflecting telescope, which acted like a super-telephoto 1000 mm lens at an aperture of f11 (just fine on a blazing bright desert day). Through my camera I could see the stubby winged shape, and we heard two sonic booms. The orbiter made a complicated S-curve to come down to the runway and slow down more.

Even so, I remember that it came in frighteningly fast -- much, must faster than any commercial airplane, even though it had been under no engine power since orbit. Dangerous, I thought. I was focusing, advancing film, and firing the shutter as fast as I could. Eventually I saw the puff of dust as the shuttle touched down, then rolled to a stop.

I don't even remember which shuttle it was. My parents must have the photos somewhere.

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