This is my space shuttle memory. On June 17, 1983, the day before the launch of STS-7, which carried the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, and her four astronaut colleagues into orbit, my family visited the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida. My mother wanted my brother, Ray, and me to visit the space center and she hoped that we might still get tickets to see the launch. Of course, admissions to the on-site viewing area had long since been distributed. But a NASA staff member told my mother another way to see it: in essence, “Just look up.” Because we lived in the mountains of northwestern Pennsylvania, it never occurred to us that you’d be able to see the launch for miles around in pancake-flat Florida. Sure enough, as we drove down the highway in our rental car the next day, the launch time arrived and we could see it easily. Even more than the plume rising into the sky or the “Ride, Sally Ride” signs, I remember being impressed that ALL of the cars on the highway stopped and pulled off onto the berm. People stood next to their vehicles or, like us, sat on the car’s hood, looking up to witness the launch of that historic space mission.
When I was helping to plan an exhibit that would include the history of the space shuttle for the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, I wanted to find a way to show how space shuttle launches and landings became cultural events, experienced by millions of people from across the country and around the world. So, working with my colleagues, we’ve developed a Flickr group where people can upload personal photos taken at space shuttle launches or landings events. From these crowd-sourced images, the team will select photos to be included on the exhibit website and in a small slideshow on a monitor in the gallery. The owners of images selected to be exhibited in the gallery may even be invited to submit their photos for inclusion in the Museum’s Archives (a separate process following all of our usual museum protocols).
So, if you ever saw a space shuttle orbiter launch or land, the Moving Beyond Earth exhibit team wants to see your photos! Upload your photos to Flickr and share them in our group called “My Space Shuttle Memories: Launches and Landings.” Flickr membership is free and uploading the images can be as easy as dragging and dropping them. The selected images will be included on the Museum’s website as part of the online presence for the Moving Beyond Earth exhibition. The website display will include all images that are selected throughout the course of the project.
Please upload photos that include people (not just your personal photo of the plume rising), because the exhibit display focuses on the people who witnessed firsthand the shuttle launches and landings. Also remember to include a caption with both the approximate date the photo was taken and your own personal reflection on the occasion. (Please also read and make sure that you agree with the terms of service before you upload any images!)
By illustrating a very small sampling of the wide range of people who witnessed the space shuttle in person between 1981 and 2011, we hope that the slide show in the Museum’s exhibit as well as on-line will show how these scientific and technological vehicles also created distinct cultural experiences, the shared witnessing of a launch or landing. Make sure we see your space shuttle memory!
Margaret A. Weitekamp is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.