EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – "I couldn't help but think of Columbia today. I know they would want us to fly again and they would be proud of us." Those words from one of NASA's specialists as the emotional swing that has been the shuttle program the last two years, comes to Southern California on quite a high note.
It began just after 2 a.m. PT, when the disappointing feeling at Edwards Air Force Base suddenly became a fireball of electricity. After beginning the process to land at the Kennedy Space Center, just 15 minutes later Mission Control changed their minds and any disappointment was erased with a massive rush to prepare for a landing just 3 hours away.
We were all excited, NASA specialists, the media and those who were lucky enough to get passes onto the base. Unlike in years past, the general public had no access and they wouldn't see much anyway since Discovery would come home 45 minutes before sunrise.
As the 100-ton orbiter hit the earth's atmosphere, the room went quiet. Tension could be seen on those who work with the program for a living and others just lucky enough to be here to witness history.
With about ten minutes to go, the sonic booms like a massive thundercloud shook our building. Two of them almost together, those not live on television emptied the room to catch a glimpse of what appeared to the eye as a glimmering star. Eventually, like a ghost ship in the predawn sky, Discovery touched down to cheers and applause across the globe and especially here at Edwards.
Joanne Facer was lucky to be here to witness this history, like many she has watched the space race evolve into the shuttle program. With tears in her eyes she says, "We came down here a couple of times and saw it on the ground, but to see it...oh there it goes...like watching a star. I just get goose bumps, just fabulous that they landed safely." As she begins to cry, "We saw both of them explode and we didn't want to see it again; this was terrific!"
Can it be said any better than that?