This morning (weather permitting) is the final launch of the Space Shuttle program. I have worked for United Space Alliance, the main shuttle contractor to NASA, for the last 12 years. USA basically runs the Shuttle program for NASA. We provide the hardware, the astronaut training, and the logistic work for each shuttle flight. I started working in the Class III Bond Room, where I issued the space suits to the lab that were used in the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. The NBL is a gigantic pool where the astronauts do their training for the shuttle missions.
I then moved to Shipping. While there, I was personally responsible for shipping all of the hardware, flight suits, clothing, food, and experiments that were to be used on the Shuttle to Kennedy Space Center. I was able to hold some of the most expensive things in the world in my hands.
I once held a piece of equipment that cost $20,000,000 in my hands. I then put it down VERY carefully after seeing the cost. LOL I even shipped the flag that was atop the World Trade Center after it had been recovered from 9-11, although we weren't allowed to know what it was at the time. It was really strange to have that come through. We normally inspect everything that comes into Shipping, but this was just a box and we were told we weren't allowed to open it or know what was inside. After the Shuttle landed and everything was unloaded, they finally told us what it was.
I moved back to Florida for a time and worked in the Vertical Assembly Building, which is where the Shuttle is attached to the rocket boosters and the tank. I can't begin to describe how awesome it was to watch a launch standing outside of that building just a couple of miles away from the launch pad. The sound was incredible. I grew up in Orlando, so I was able to see every launch from my bedroom window, but nothing compared to being THAT close.
I returned to Texas and have been working as an Industrial Engineer (although they don't call us that anymore so they don't have to pay for the "Engineer" title. LOL) and have provided everything from laptops to electrical and photo/TV hardware to batteries for Shuttle and Station use. I've been doing this for the last 9 years or so. It's always cool to watch certain things going on during the launch or during the mission itself and be seeing it through the video camera that I sent there.
People that I've talked to outside of the space industry have been somewhat in awe of what I do. I've never really gotten that. Kind of like coming from Orlando, Florida, and listening to talk about Disney World and how people save for months and even years to be able to take their family there on vacation. I knew, dated, or was married to people that worked for Disney and one of the perks to that is getting in to any of the parks for free. That and my proximity to the park meant I, my friends, and family could go there just to kill a couple of hours on the weekend. It was no big deal until I got away from Orlando and talked to people that spent much of their lives wanting to go there. My job is much the same. My job is essentially like any other office job, but the rewards for doing it are vastly different. I helped put people into space. That's just a cool thing to think about. And it's something that am trying not to lose an appreciation for, especially with everything winding down.
Once the Shuttle lands, we'll be in full program shut-down mode and looking forward to nothing but unemployment most likely. Lay-offs will be massive. Thankfully, I think I'm in the position where I can make a go of coloring full-time, but it's something that is going to be so unfamiliar to me. I've spent over a quarter of my life working for USA, and it never dawned on me (except for the last few months) that I wasn't going to be working here until I was ready to retire. I'm ready to move on, but today is a day for celebration of the program that brought so many cool moments and experiences to my life.
Have a safe flight STS-135. Come home soon.
P.S. Anyone wanting to watch the Shuttle Launch can do so at www.nasa.gov There is still about and hour or so before the launch.