Kennedy Space Center; you can feel the breath and the tradition of spaceflight
I had planned to use the launch of the shuttle Endeavour with the European elements Node 3 and Cupola to intensify personal contacts with various participants in the space sector. The focus of our talks was on the current mission, of course, but they also addressed issues such as the procurement of Meteosat Third Generation and the Obama administration’s plan for space in the coming years, published a week ago.
The launch of a shuttle is much more than just the observation of a rocket accelerating upwards. As was the case for the launch of Atlantis with the European module Columbus, NASA organised an extensive tour to visit different areas of Kennedy Space Center.
My personal expectations for the tour were not all that high, as I had already had the chance to see the establishment - but they were greatly exceeded. If you are standing in the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is 500 feet tall, you can see and feel the glorious history of American human spaceflight. In this building, the famous Saturn V was assembled to send Apollo to the moon. The fascination was accompanied by some melancholy, as you could see signs that the shuttle fleet will be retired at the end of 2010. At the same time, you could recognise the strong desire of the employees not only to realise the remaining shuttle missions but also to enter into future developments with full commitment.
The decision of the Obama administration to cancel plans to fly with astronauts to the Moon and Mars in the near future is certainly regrettable. However, the opportunities presented by this policy realignment are already a basis for future activities. International cooperation is at the political focus and is already in the minds of those with responsibilities in this area. Now it is the duty of Europe and Germany to define their part.
There were many international guests, such as Jean-Jacques Dordain, Director General of ESA and Enrico Saggese, President of the Italian space agency ASI, as well as representatives of other European space agencies (France, The Netherlands, The Czech Republic) the European Commission and numerous industrial companies, who were able to exchange their opinions and develop ideas.
The launch at 4:39 in the morning required careful planning, not only by NASA but also by their guests. NASA created a positive atmosphere with a perfect 'show'. The fact that the countdown had to be stopped just nine minutes before launch because of a low cloud ceiling was not felt to be serious disappointment but rather was judged to be the right decision to ensure a safe launch and demonstrated the responsible attitude of the management.
A very special message to passengers Jan Wörner and Thomas Reiter, straight from the cockpit of Lufthansa flight 465 on its way from Orlando (MCO) to Frankfurt (FRA) at 9:16 GMT (10:16CET): Successful lift-off for Space Shuttle Endeavour’s Mission STS-130 2 minutes ago.
Thomas Reiter and I had to leave that evening, anyway. The plane was - in contrast to the outward journey - rather empty because most people stayed to watch the launch. We had to leave to fulfill our duties as board members at a DLR Executive board meeting in Cologne. We were delighted when the crew of our Lufthansa plane informed us at 10:16 CET that Endeavour had taken off two minutes previously, at 04:14 Eastern Standard Time.