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Archive for the ‘atlantis’ Category

Pete Crow in Kennedy Media Center 5 am Friday, November 3, 2012. An unusually large number of media showed up to cover the final event in the American Space Shuttle program.

Once the decision was made in 2010 to shutter the American space shuttle program, the program began wrapping up.

The last mission was flown in July 2011, STS-135. It was an add-on mission to supply the International Space Station through the end of 2012 in hopes that SpaceX would be able to get  flying in time to re-supply the ISS and to avoid the shut-down of the ISS sometime early in 2013. SpaceX made its first re-supply mission earlier this year. The ISS is safe.

Next the decision was made where to send the shuttles.

The Smithsonian got the oldest surviving member of the fleet, Discovery, but it wasn’t without a fight. Los Angeles, south of Palmdale, where the shuttles were built, got the newest member of the fleet, Endeavour. It was decided toi leave Atlantis in Florida only a few miles where she was repeatedly launched into space.

And Houston where Mission Control and the astronauts live?  Houston was one of the two central places in the entire program. Houston got nothing.

Well, almost nothing:  — they got the “high definition” shuttle, a mockup built for the Kennedy Space Center.

The High Def leaves the Visitor Center in December 2011. This time the route did not include that guard house .

Meanwhile, Enterprise, which had been at the Smithsonian and was a test vehicle, was sent to New York where, reportedly, it was severely damaged by Tropical Storm Sandy in November 2012.

Why was Houston stiffed? Texans are convinced it was pure politics: — payback from President Barack Obama for not voting for him. It’s what they believe.

On Friday, November 3, 2012, Atlantis, the last of the surviving shuttles and the last shuttle to go to a museum, was guided along the roads at Kennedy Space Center, across open fields and eventually eased into its final resting place only a few miles from where she flew more than 30 missions. Atlantis is home, and now becomes a museum piece and, hopefully, an inspiration for generations to come.

Moving Atlantis on a circuitous 12 mile route  to the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center on Friday, November 2, 2012, was easy compared to the challenges of moving the Endeavour two weeks earlier through the streets of Los Angeles to the California Science Center. The distance was the same — the challenges were not.

The rollover of the Atlantis from the Vehicle Assembly Building where she had been stored began early. The badging center for the media opened at 4:30 am — and closed at 6 am when the roads at Kennedy Space Center were roped off and closed. No one had any doubts this would be a long day. Any media that had traveled west for the move of the Endeavour in Los Angeles in mid-October 2012 knew things could get way off the reservation as they had to Los Angeles. The Visitors Center had fireworks planned for 7 pm when the Atlantis was scheduled to arrive at the building where she will be housed. Did Atlantis arrive on time? You betcha.

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The media was moved six times during the rollover’s 12 hours in a complicated series of handoffs. Initially the media came to the press site, parked and boarded buses to the VAB. Once the Atlantis was out of the VAB and on to the road, the NASA buses moved the media to a second location ahead of the shuttle. And, given how fast they were driving the shuttle, it was not long before here she came. Obligingly, the Atlantis was stopped at an intersection and the media moved in to shoot photos and video. For most of the press this was either the third or fourth shuttle move they had covered beginning with the movement of the High Definition shuttle in December 2011 which was sent from Kennedy Visitors Center to Houston to make way for the Atlantis.

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Many who worked on the shuttle program walked her from the VAB and then gave way to a local high school band, and still later to astronauts who had flown aboard her. The first stop for Atlantis was in front of the NASA/Kennedy administration building where Charles (“Charlie”) Bolton, NASA administrator and a former astronaut, signed the rights to exhibit the Atlantis over to the Kennedy Vistor’s Center. Unlike other shuttles, which were sold and rights relinquished, NASA will continue to own the Atlantis allowing the Visitors Center to exhibit her.

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Charles Bolton signs over the Atlantis. Familiar troubles were just beginning. NASA had put visitors in front of the press here and these guests began blocking any photographers who were not able to get onto the few photography stands. When asked to move most refused to do so. This behavior is becoming increasingly common.

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After the signing ceremony, Atlantis set out again, this time for an extended stay at the new NASA Exploration Park which currently is an open field, but where development is on the way. At Exploration Park Atlantis was parked for three hours allowing guests, media and those who had paid the Visitors Center for rights to see her here to walk closely around her. Food, exhibits, speeches and music also took place at the park. But at 3 pm, by which time most people had headed for the Visitors Center, Atlantis set out for the final leg of her journey The press was handed off here.  Visitors Center now assumed control and movement of the press.

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Atlantis spent her the afternoon with her nose nestled among exhibition and food booths. As as was true in Los Angeles for Endeavour two weeks earlier, the public was allowed to walk right up to her. Because the shuttles never left KSC unless being launched, hardly anyone had ever seen them before the movements of them to museums. The reaction of most people when they first saw the shuttles (which weigh about 155,000 pounds and stand 55-high) for the first time? They were surprised how big they are.

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The Kennedy Visitors Center does a great job of educating about space and NASA’s programs including fun interactive games. At Exploration Park children and adults were invited to make their own rocket, attach fins, decorate, fire the rocket (using compressed air) and then go retrieve their rocket down range. Those sending their rockets the furtherest were, from time-to-time during the afternoon, awarded small prizes. Here several children begin to make their rockets.

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Rockets were fired with air which was compressed using a bicycle pump. Here a young rocketeer pumps and compresses air into a small canister.

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Then all you had to do was press as button and …. whoosh! Off your rocket goes! The children were being shown, and doing, all of the basic principals and steps of rocketry.

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After firing, the children headed down range to find out how far their rocket had gone and to retrieve it. They were welcome to fire as often as they wished since there were plenty of “firing stations” available.

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Late in the afternoon, Atlantis rounded the corner for the final time and approached the Visitors Center where she stopped while guests at the Visitors Center took pictures and had a second look at her.

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To move the Atlantis electric wires had to be raised, and stoplights and signs removed. It took extensive and time consuming preparation.

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Atlantis was led the final mile to the Visitor Center by astronauts who had once flown aboard her. It was a poignant moment reminding those watching how some of the once young and vigorous astronauts have aged. One used a walker.

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Atlantis will go on display in the summer of 2013 in a remarkable configuration allowing visitors to peak inside. Each of the shuttles are being displayed in different configurations although the museums did not co-ordinate with one another how how they planned to display their shuttles. Preparation for Atlantis’ arrival began last December with the removal of the “High Definition” shuttle mock-up that had been on display here. That mock-up was sent to Houston for display. After it had been removed construction on this building which will house the Atlantis began.

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This is where Atlantis will eventually be displayed. Currently the building is, obviously, still under construction. The beams that will support Atlantis as if she was in flight are visible in the lower right. Atlantis was moved into the building late Friday night November 3, 2012. She was then bundled up to protect her while construction continued. First up: the front of the building was closed in.

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As dusk approached, Atlantis was eased into the construction site where she came to a halt. Officials and media gathered. More words were spoken, and photos were taken. Fireworks were fired. And then about 8 pm Atlantis was driven into the building where sometime next summer she will be receiving visitors. The American Space Shuttle era had come to its final end. For the first time since the early 1980s, no space shuttles are either in the hangars at KSC or in space. It’s over, folks.

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[CLICK to ENLARGE] Kennedy Visitor Center Map of Atlantis route from VAB to Visitors Center

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[CLICK to ENLARGE] Kennedy Visitor Center Map of Atlantis route from VAB to Visitors Center

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Some of the Seine/Harbour Productions’ crew killing time at Kennedy Space Center waiting for Atlantis to show up November 3, 2012. (photo courtesy of AJ Achilles)

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PeteCrow/NASA, photographs and content, are the copyrighted literary property, © 2012 of Seine/Harbour™ Productions, LLC, Studio City, California.  Please visit our other sites, including The World ReBooted® by clicking HERE.



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Endeavour, at top, leaves the OPF for the final time and heads for the VAB, as Atlantis takes its place. The switch took place Monday morning. Endeavour leaves KSC on September 17 and arrives in Los Angeles on September 20. It goes to the California Science Museum overnight October 12, arriving the afternoon of October 13. Atlantis goes down the road to the KSC visitor’s Center, scheduled to arrive on November 2. These are the last of the shuttles, and shuttle mockups that remain at KSC. When they are gone, the program is fully ended and the last personnel who worked on them will be gone as well. (photograph Pete Crow, from Roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building, August 16, 2012. © Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, California

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Endeavour which flew its final flight on STS-134 is now in OPF-2 (Orbiter Processing Facility 2) where it is being readied for being turned over to the California Science Museum in September 2012.

Pete Crow in the Commander seat on the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Eneavour on March 7, 2012. The photograph is by Tony Achilles of radio station WPKN in Bridgeport, CT.

As NASA did with the shuttle Discovery, the media was invited to have a look around on March 7, 2012 including visits to the flight deck.

Status of the three surviving orbiters (originally there were 5 — the first two, Columbia and Challenger were lost):

Endeavour — in early stages of preparation for Los Angeles
Discovery — goes to Smithsonian at Dulles Airport April 17, 2012
Atlantis — goes to Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Center — building to house Atlantis is under construction

The Houston Johnson Space Center will get the shuttle mockup that has been at the Kennedy Space Center. It is on the dock at KSC in front of the Media Site 39 awaiting its barge ride to Galveston, Texas.

New York City will get, or may already have, the shuttle mockup that has been at the Smithsonian Museum at Dulles Airport.

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See my interview with Buddy McKenzie of the Space Alliance standing under the tail of the Endeavour on March 7 below:

DISCUSSION OF THE SHUTTLE TILES and challenges they presented to the NASA ground crews. This runs about five minutes.  Tony Achilles, WPKN in Bridgeport, Connecticut, shot this footage. This clip, which features Pete Crow interviewing Mr. McKenzie can also be found here. More of Mr. Achilles excellent footage of others events can also be found at this link.

NASA invites everyone associated with the shuttle, including the Media, to sign the walls of the White Rooms which will go to Museums. Pete’s signature is at the bottom of the Endeavour White Room wall on your right as you enter.

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.”petecrow/NASA” is jointly copyright © 2012, by Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, CA, and by the Peter Michael Crow Trust.

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A collection of NASA’s stunning photographs from the final shuttle mission, STS-135. They are reproduced here in largest size — click to enlarge. You are free to use the NASA photos in this post, but NASA requests you credit NASA if you do.

The final moments in the Shuttle program. Shuttle Atlantis settles onto Runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center 6 am, July 21, 2011. This is the back of the shuttle.


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This is seconds after the shuttle has landed ... note, the parachute is deployed and the shuttle is rapidly slowly. Shuttles land about 190-210 miles an hour. An hour earlier, just before beginning its de-orbit burn on the other side of the world, often over the Indian Ocean, the shuttle is moving 17,900 miles an hour.


Down and safe for the final time, Atlantis is rolling out on Runway 15. This photograph was taken just after Atlantis' parachute was jettisoned. The 15 (northern) end of the runway was brightly lit in order to get photos of the shuttle landing. This photograph was taken from the southern end of the runway, looking north up the runway toward the 15 end.


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Pad 39-A, morning of the final launch, July 21, 2011. The now-torn-down Pad 39-B, from which shuttles were also launched, is in the top of the picture, toward the left.


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Press Complex 39, the morning of the final launch. Many media spent the entire night at the Cape sleeping in their cars, although few believed (incorrectly) that the launch would go that day. About 3,000 media were accredited for the launch, exceeding 2,200 for the final Moon mission in 1972. Of the 3,000 accredited, fewer than 10 went to Houston to cover the ten days of the mission itself.

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Thursday, 4 pm, July 21, 2011 The crew of STS-135 / Space Shuttle Atlantis successfully landed shortly before 6 am on their first orbit opportunity on July 21, 2011, on runway 15 in Florida.

After safeing the vehicle, a press conference was held on the runway, and then Atlantis was towed back to Orbiter Processing Facility #2 where a walk-around for NASA / Kennedy Space Center eomployees was held.

For many of these employees the landing was bittersweet. A large number will be laid off on Friday, July 22, 2011.

Following the employee ceremonies, Atlantis was returned to its hangar (OPF #2) and preparations to turn her over to the Kennedy Visitors Space Center sometime in 2012 will begin.

STS-135 was the last of 135 shuttle missions over the past 30 years.

NASA has no near term plans to fly manned missions again and has, in effect, ceded the American manned space program to the Russians and the Chinese.

On Friday, July 22, 2011 … the four Astronauts will fly to Houston in the morning and will attend a final public celebration of their successful mission in Hangar 990 at Ellington Field near the Johnson Space Center at 4 pm.

This gathering is open to the public. Doors open about 3:30 pm.

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The Space Shuttle Atlantis will land during one of the times below, and in one of the listed locations, between Thursday July 21 and Saturday July 23, 2011. The shuttles energy reserves will be 14 hours (it’s ability to keep flying) after these landing times.

STS-135 Mission crest. The final shuttle mission will end between Thursday morning, July 21, and Saturday afternoon, July 23, 2011.

Overnight, July 20-21, the shuttle undocked from the International Space Station (ISS), did a fly around the station before easing into an orbit that gradually, orbit by orbit, increased the distance between itself and the ISS. Atlantis is moving into a landing trajectory and then, about an hour before landing, will do a de-orbit burn to land at one of its three listed landing areas.

It is expected to land at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the most preferred location of the three locations.

Tuesday afternoon, July 20, 2011, the weather looked favorable for the shuttle to successfully land in Florida on its first of two Florida opportunities. The shuttle would be landing at dawn on Thursday morning, July 22, 2011

The landing opportunites and locations are as follows:

THURSDAY
KSC orbit 200 – 5:56 am EDT
KSC orbit 201 – 7:32 am EDT

FRIDAY
KSC orbit 215 – 4:56 am EDT
KSC orbit 216 – 6:31 am EDT
EDW orbit 217 – 8:02 am EDT
NOR orbit 217 – 8:04 am EDT
EDW orbit 218 – 9:38 am EDT
NOR orbit 218 – 9:40 am EDT
EDW orbit 219 – 11:15 am EDT

SATURDAY
KSC orbit 231 – 5:30 am EDT
KSC orbit 232 – 7:06 am EDT
NOR orbit 232 – 7:03 am EDT
EDW orbit 233 – 8:37 am EDT
NOR orbit 233 – 8:39 am EDT
EDW orbit 234 – 10:13 am EDT
KSC orbit 236 (descending) – 1:36 pm EDT

source:
NASA / Johnson Space Center / July 19, 2011
NASA / KSC confirms times; NOR not listed as alternative / July 20, 2011

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Hatch closing is a matter of life and death so much care is taken. This is the hatch that leads to the shuttle. With no more shuttle missions, and no more shuttles, it will be a long time before this hatch is opened again. Note the model of the shuttle in the upper left, and the American flag attached to the hatch. That flag flew on STS-1 and returned to Earth only to be brought back on STS-135. When Americans again dock here in their own vehicle this flag will be returned to Earth. The flag is likely to be here a very long time.

Ten days in Houston. For two days after launch on July 8, 2011,the shuttle Altantis chased after, and finally docked with the International Space Station for a final time.

The crew of four, eminently likeable people, spend the following eight days as first longshoremen, hauling about 9,000 pounds of supplies onto the ISS, and then as trashmen, hauling out 5,400 pounds of trash, stuff that had stopped working and, incredibly, 25-percent of their entire load: packing foam. When they arrived the shuttle and its bay was packed with goodies and when they closed the hatch on Monday morning sealing themselves back onto the Atlantis, they had an equal amount in volume (although not in pounds) that they had brought up.

The press, present in huge numbers for the final launch in Florida, didn’t bother to follow the mission to Houston. Six of the 3,000 accredited reporters were here. A couple of others used the phone bridge and called in each day for the press conferences. That was it.

Life in Houston. With an exception or two, the reporters in Houston, like those in Florida, were young, but very knowledgible. They represented mostly dot.coms who are space sites. One network reporter was here; another called each day from Florida. I was the only newspaper, although occasionally a F.orida news reporter would call in and ask a question or two.

In truth, there was not a lot of reason to be here.

NASA was running events on the ISS and the Shuttle 24/7 so anyone could be right up to date from anywhere in the world. They did not, of course, have a scuttlebutt in the hall or pick up tidbits that first could be known here, and sometimes not known anywhere else. But it was minor stuff. At one point on day eight the NASA public relations staff scuttled a press conference on a Saturday afternoon figuring no one would show, and considered canceling the one the following day only to be surprised that all the reporters (remember that is only six) showed up.

Press conferences, moreover, were oddly public, on TV, and then when the lights went off, reporters would gather with whoever was doing the briefing and the discussions sometimes would go on and on, as it did on Sunday.

What most intrigued me, I suppose, was the all encompassing nature of the mission here. NASA TV was on everywhere around JSC and the surrounding area. The local TV stations have NASA-TV on their cable channel lineup. And because of the nature of life on the ISS, reporters (me included) gradually lapsed into a life where day or night mattered less and less.

The shuttle circles the Earth roughly every 90 minutes, half in darkness and half in the sunlight. Languidly the Earth slowly rolls by 235 miles below — first over the Red Sea, then New Zealand and the Hudson Bay, each orbit slightly different than the last. It began to mesmerize me — the silence. The beauty. I longed to have a video tape of it to play in our home — hour after hour of grand elegance.

As the mission went on the crew was awakened earlier and earlier until, no longer getting up in the middle of the night, the day was beginning at 11 pm and then 10. The press site too followed the crew hours. First it opened at 4 am, then 3 and 2 am — and finally at midnight and continued to track earlier each day. The press conferences gradually eased back into the early hours of the day as well.

As the mission went on, I began to sleep in snatches, always with NASA-TV on, or sitting at my desk in the press site working, watching. Hotels follow a more rigid schedule and like their guests to leave at a certain time, but as the days passed one hotel’s front desk clerks began to befriend me and I to befriend them. They were fascinated by the shuttle and by NASA but, as is often true, they had never been allowed on Johnson Space Center. I brought them reporter’s notebooks and DVDs. They put me in a suite and began sliding their hotel hours later and later to accommodate my schedule.

And when I couldn’t make their computers work, I was taken into the back office and given access to their computers — and here, then, I asked about one of the clerk’s life, and he began to ask me about mine.

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Coming home. The shuttle cannot remain in space for long due to its limited amount of energy. Because the shuttle launched on its first attempt, it retained enough energy to stay up an additional day — crucial in terms of packing out additional trash.

By Monday morning, NASA was eying the weather in Florida, and eying the energy levels left on the shuttle. When Atlantis left the space station she had 4 days and 13 hours of energy left, but of that NASA will use two days of energy just to get the shuttle in position to land, and as for the other two days, they do not use them. They are for the direst of circumstances to insure that the shuttle will have enough energy, and time (two days) to land if unexpected things happen and need to be straightened out.

One reporter asked, given that the shuttle is scheduled to land before dawn when no one, including nASA itself, gets much in the way of pictures, if NASA had considered sending the shuttle around an extra orbit to allow the sun to come up on Thursday.

“We don’t think that way,” was the answer. NASA wants the shuttle down as soon as possible once she leaves the ISS.

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Why was I at home on the International Space Station? I was at home on the ISS because in one sense, I have been there and spent time roaming around. That’s why I gradually slipped more and more into life on the ISS as the mission went on; I know what is where on the ISS.

NASA took me on board in Houston on June 1, 2011 and set me free. So …

Direcly ahead? The Russian sector. To my left, the Japanese laboratory. Straight ahead, through the hatch, the shuttle is docked and, look up, that is the back of the shuttle, and look down and there is its nose. I’ve crawled from the shuttle’s mid deck through to the shuttle bay to the other side of that very hatch.

The Europeans? They are over there. And …

On July 1, 2011, JSC walked about eighty members of the press, me included, past and often right through their mockups in Building 9 at JSC — the shuttle, the Soyuz, the onboard bathroom, and the entire mockup of the International Space Station itself.

These mockups, we were told, were exact replicas. The astronauts train here for familiarization.

After watching STS-135’s crew on the ISS they have me convinced.

I knew where I was — although sometimes I had to think “now where is …?” Unlike a house with steps, the ISS has different pods attached here and there almost haphazardly because, in the weightlessness of space, there’s no reason for stairs, and so there’s no reason not to attach new stuff everywhichway to the main ISS.

And so they did.

On the day before landing the shuttle commander took a videocamera and roamed the entire ISS (with the exception of the Russian area). This was like my final exam. I may have thought I’d known all week where I was, but did I really? I was quietly surprised. Yeah, I knew what was around that corner. Yeah — look up. There it is … a hatch. I knew it was there … and …

It was eerie, but stangely comforting.

I longed to be weightless and to float free.

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What I do. I long ago decided that while I always report the basic facts hen I’m covering an event, what I’m really interested in is who has shown up. At the political conventions, it is the party officials who get those awful seats high in the eaves, or the people in the streets holding signs.

That’s where I head. That’s who I want to talk to.

The almost-Astronaut. Waiting in line to fly to Houston I strike up a conversation with a woman ahead of me with a NASA sticker on her luggage. “Does she work for NASA?”

“No — I was one of the 12 finalists to be one of the teacher astronauts, but I didn’t make it. They only selected three.”

I was impressed. Did she go through the training?

She did — she rode weighless on the vomit comet and had the $40,000 NASA physical.

“Forty-thousand dollars for a physical? What did they do?”

“You don’t want the details — really you don’t.”

She was philosophical. She knew all the places at NASA I knew — the mockups and the training facilities. She sincerely liked all of the other finalists and seemed genuinely happy for those selected. “They all spoke Russian so it would have been a plus.”

I asked her if they might call her back later since she was not merely one of the finalists, she was one of the stand-bys if someone dropped out.

“I don’t think so. They have never selected someone over 44 and now I’m over 44. No — I think it is over, but it was a great experience.”

Wait! This woman is over 44?

“Take a closer look.”

I already had. She didn’t look “over 44” to me.

The hotel clerk. A hotel clerk spies my media credentials. I’m vaguely embarrassed — I always try to remember to remove them before I leave the car. For one thing, that means I always know where they are, but mostly it is because I don’t like to draw attention to myself.

I’m here on business, but it doesn’t matter what my business is.

But I had forgotten to pull my credentials off and sow them, and he asked me about how it was to cover the shuttle, and how long I’ve covered launches. After we chat for awhile a second clerk, a woman, joins us — and eventually I go find them some momentos which are handed out to the press free. They are thrilled.

Later I ask the clerk about himself.

He works at the hotel part time and has three young daughters. He is an X-ray technician and learned his skills in the Army. His father was a career officer. The more I talk to him the more I like him.

I ask him whether he had been sent to Iraq — and he said he had several tours there, and also Afghanistan. I ask him if he is okay because what you see in war can harden and deaden you. “Yeah,” he says, “I’m okay” and then he adds that he was trained in airborne assault “so I knew what I might get into.”

What did he get into?

“911 — I was airlifted to Ground Zero less than three hours after it happened and our unit went down onto the streets by ropes. We didn’t land.”

Whoa.

“The streets were so hot that in three days I burned off the souls of four pairs of boots — the souls would get stock in the streets.”

These were stories I’d never heard before.

“We lived in Central Park,” he said, at first under the stars. By the end of September 11, 2001, the US military had 15,000 troops surrounding the ground zero site. The stink. Three and a half months later when they pulled me out, the stink was still there. No — it was worse. It was rotting human flesh. I knew what the stink was …”

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