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We Visited All Four Space Shuttles

Updated: Dec 18, 2021

It's been a long few weeks of shooting weddings and catching up on finishing wedding videos as we juggle life with a newborn. I expected us to be busy, but I don't know if I expected us to be this busy. I know we haven't posted much these last few months, so I wanted to copy over an article that I had originally written for our travel blog. These last few weeks have been chaotic for both Laura and I, so I thought it would be fun to revisit something that really brought us together.


If you know us personally, you know we have a serious passion for space and astronomy. We love having the opportunity to stare up at the stars, especially when we’re in the middle of nowhere on a clear night. We have visited countless planetariums across the country. In our first year together, we visited our first space shuttle together in Virginia. This kicked off a goal. We wanted to see every remaining space shuttle in person. The only catch: they are spread out around the country. We made it our mission to go and explore each one. We were so excited about the idea, we saw all four of them in only a few months.


Discovery


About three years ago, we visited our first space shuttle. We went on a trip to Washington DC with my family, and on the drive back up, Laura and I decided to stop at the Steven F. Udvar- Hazy Air and Space Museum. Amongst all the aircraft, including the Enola Gay and an SR-71 Blackbird, was Space Shuttle Discovery.


Space Shuttle Discovery is NASA’s 3rd space shuttle from the shuttle program. It was introduced in November 1983. Discovery is named after two famous sailing ships; one sailed by Henry Hudson in 1610-1611 to search for a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the other by James Cook on a voyage during which he discovered the Hawaiian Islands.


Seeing a space shuttle up and close in person is an incredible sight to behold. I never realized how large they actually are. I’ve seen pictures of them my whole life, so finally seeing it in person was like meeting a celebrity that I’ve admired since I was a kid. That day, while admiring Discovery, we set a goal to go and see every remaining space shuttle.




Once the shuttle program ended, the remaining space shuttles were divided around the country and placed in museums. Discovery was located in Virginia. Enterprise was located in New York City. Atlantis was located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And Endeavor was located in Los Angeles, California. We had crossed off one space shuttle, but we had three more to go.



Enterprise


Being that we live in New Jersey, we figured the easiest space shuttle to see next would be Enterprise, which is parked at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. We made a fun day trip out of it. We explored the Central Park Zoo and saw a beautiful sunset on top of Rockefeller Center.


Space Shuttle Enterprise didn’t actually go into space. It was designed as a prototype for low Earth orbit tests. Being that it never broke the atmosphere, you can tell this shuttle looks a lot cleaner than all the others. The heat tiles on the front of the shuttle don’t really show any signs of wear. Even though it didn’t go in to space, it was still a beautiful aircraft.



It was time to cross another space shuttle off our list. The next two shuttles were located in Florida and California. We knew these would be a little trickier to see. We couldn’t just get in a car and drive over to one. But we did know we were going to Walt Disney World in the next month with my family and because the Kennedy Space Center was about an hour away from where we were staying, we thought that would be our best chance to see the next shuttle on our list.




Atlantis


Four months after our first space shuttle, we were on the way to see our third. We rented a car from the Walt Disney Dolphin hotel on Disney property and made our way over to the Kennedy Space Center. We had plans for the day in Disney World, so we got up real early and attempted to make the trip and get back before noon.


The Kennedy Space Center was one of our favorite places to visit. It had a nearly endless amount of exhibits to explore. We didn’t have nearly enough time to even scratch the surface of what was there, but we did get a chance to see what we came there for.


We were initially annoyed with the way they presented the space shuttle. Discovery and Enterprise were both located in a hangar and we were able to walk right up to them at our leisure. With Atlantis, there were showings. We walked to the building that housed the shuttle, which had space shuttle rocket thrusters greeting us at the entrance. Once inside the building, we had to wait in line for nearly 20 minutes and watch a show before we were able to see the shuttle. We were used to seeing these space shuttles at our own pace.



I wish I had recorded what happened directly after the show ended. The big screen in front of us that was showcasing a video about the space shuttle program slowly faded away in front of our eyes and behind it, larger than life, was space shuttle Atlantis. We walked towards the space shuttle in total awe. Honestly, the entire exhibit was incredible. After we took photos of the shuttle, we tried out a slide that deploys from the shuttles so we can feel what it was like to leave a space shuttle.





Downstairs, there was an incredible exhibit honoring space shuttle Challenger and Columbia disasters. Space shuttle Challenger exploded on ascent back in 1986. Space shuttle Columbia exploded on re-entry back in 2003. At the exhibit, they had pieces of each shuttle behind glass and pictures and memorabilia from the crews. It was the first time I ever cried at a museum. It was such a heavy experience that really brought the risks of space travel into perspective.


(on the left are remains from space shuttle Challenger and on the right are remains from space shuttle Columbia)



Endeavor


We knew the last space shuttle was going to be the most difficult to see. It was located all the way on the other side of the country. We decided we would make a trip out of it. Laura and I had been talking about going to Disneyland in Los Angeles for a while, so we decided to combine a trip there with a visit to space shuttle Endeavor. I will write more about that trip to Los Angeles in a future article because there’s quite a story around that!


Seeing Endeavor wasn’t quite the build up that Atlantis was. At the time we saw it, the space shuttle was just sitting, parked in a hangar. That didn’t stop us from taking fun pictures of it though. Endeavor was still a really cool shuttle. It was in space for a total of 299 days and was on 25 different space missions since its initial mission in 1992.



There was something both fulfilling and disappointing about seeing our last space shuttle together. We were so excited that we did what we set out to do, but we didn’t know where to go from there.



We had achieved our goal of seeing all four space shuttles in such a short amount of time. We had done something that not everybody gets to experience. It honestly became the start of a lot of spontaneous trips. A simple thought of “let’s do this” always ended up being a reality after that. We actually have a picture up on our wall of us in front of all four space shuttles. It kind of acts as a reminder that anything is possible when you have a sense of adventure.


I keep telling Laura that I want to go back and see all the shuttles again. I think we’ll probably wait until Julian is old enough for us to experience that sense of adventure again through his eyes. Until then, we’ll keep looking up at the stars, dreaming of the next big adventure.



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