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Space Shuttle Wrap Up & Gallery Links

by George Murphy on August 10, 2011

A broadcast van makes its way to the shuttle press site at the Kennedy Space Center, as the landmark Vehicle Assembly Building looms in the background.

July was an intense and exhausting month as I hit the road with a car packed to the gills with photographic equipment and traveled to Florida’s “Space Coast” to witness and document first-hand the final mission in NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. I would be providing an insider look at this historic event for the Press Democrat newspaper, in addition to pursuing personal multimedia and fine art print projects I am working on around this event.

From the dramatic launch and landing events at the Kennedy Space Center, to monitoring shuttle Atlantis’ mission to the International Space Station (ISS) from the NASA Press Center, it was an around-the-clock immersive experience filled with interesting people, moments and photo opportunities that I will not soon forget. Despite the gaping hole of thirty years since I witnessed the launch of that very first space shuttle, Columbia (STS-1), this adventure brought full circle my long distance relationship with NASA and the Space Shuttle Program; and gave me a chance to catch up on Americas space efforts in a very human way.

The NASA Press Center buzzes with activity as over 2,600 media gather to cover the last Space Shuttle mission. Both NASA media staff and aerospace representatives offered up information on both the current mission and life after the space shuttle.

Certainly being immersed in the zany craziness that was the NASA Press Center was one way to get a sense for the current state of affairs, as NASA officials fielded questions from the throngs of information hungry media that had converged on the Kennedy Space Center (it had accredited over 2,600). It was almost information overload as NASA and a host of competing aerospace contractors made a concerted effort to create awareness of a space program, beyond the expiring Space Shuttle Program. But there was really only one question that everyone kept coming back to: When and how would Americans next be back in space, launching from U.S. soil?

Behind the very upbeat public face that NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and others rallied to put on as they talked about how NASA was refocusing its human space flight program on deep space exploration (meaning beyond Earth orbit), they were consistently very light on the details; even to the point of having to postpone, indefinitely, a major press conference intended to offer substantive insight into NASA’s plans for the future of America’s human space effort.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden talks with reporters at the Shuttle Landing Facility after the touch-down of Atlantis.

The most telling understanding of this, though, came from talking with ground level individuals on both the NASA and contractor side of the program. These are the people who are being reassigned, retired or laid off after decades of service in jobs working to support something they believed in very much. However, with NASA’s mission plan continuing to shift, as both the Administration and Congress struggle to agree on a clear vision for our future in space, there can be no jobs to build a space system that hasn’t been defined (or at least agreed upon) yet.

In the bittersweet mix of deep pride and shared sadness expressed by these dedicated individuals who have worked to make the Shuttle Program so successful, I understood that whatever greatness the future may eventually hold for American’s in space, this particular moment was about the passing of a great era of achievement by our nation. I feel tremendously privileged to have been able to experience it up close and to capture some part of it to share and remember.


Updated FirstHand Journal galleries featuring photo highlights from my coverage of the STS-135 mission:

>> Go HERE for my article for the Press Democrat newspaper: “The Last of the Lasts”
>> Go HERE for my related image galleries on the Press Democrat site.
This will take you to the Press Democrat multimedia page. Once there, search for the following dates and titles 

July 21st, 2011  “Shuttle Insider: George Murphy”
July 25th, 2011 “Saying Goodbye to Atlantis”

If you’re interested in any of these images for publication or other use, please visit the FHP Media Exchange site  HERE where you can use on-line tools to browse, build lightboxes  and license images for publication.


The Legal Stuff: All images are Copyright © George Murphy | FirstHand Pictures and cannot be published or reproduced without express permission. All rights reserved. To license the use of these images please contact or visit the FirstHand Pictures Media Exchange at .



One response to “Space Shuttle Wrap Up & Gallery Links”

  1. Elle Chan says:

    George – thanks for sharing this historic moment with us through your visionary perspective. Your photographs capture the moments and the light beautifully. I’m happy you re-posted on fb today. It’s my first night on vacation in the Finger Lakes region of NY and I got to spend 40 minutes reading your blog and taking my time to view your photographs.

    The wind is blowing through the windows with a thunder and lightening display in the distance which provides a dramatic soundtrack for your photos of the Atlantis mission.

    I feel lucky to see the Atlantis through your eyes. Thank you so much for sharing the extraordinary experience with us.


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