Living Shuttle, ready to sleep – Spring

by Chris Bergin

Former Shuttle Astronaut Woody Spring spoke of his admiration for the “living” Space Shuttle – but noted the 2010 retirement is the right course of action for NASA to take.

Before travelling on STS-61B, Spring remembered stepping on to the launch pad, only to be greeted by a hissing and squealing Atlantis – fuelled up and ready for launch.

“You go out to the pad,” Spring said to The Providence Journal, “and you think, ‘Wow, this is a live vehicle.’ She’s hissing and belching. It’s got liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, minus 320 and minus 340. She’s squealing and making noises.

“That vehicle is alive.”

Involved in the early days of the Space Shuttle program, Spring – a distinguished former Colonel – finally got his chance to fly into space with Atlantis, an experience he’s not likely to forget.

“It’s like lions growling in the room behind you,” recalled Spring, as the three Space Shuttle Main Engines fired up to full thrust. “There’s a lot of rumble, man. It’s wonderful. It’s going to happen.”

Then the two Solid Rocket Booster fire into life at T-0.

“It’s like, ‘bam’. Like someone hit the back of your head with a sledgehammer. It almost sounds like it’s a pick-up truck full of sheet metal going over railroad tracks. A lot of pieces being shook pretty hard.”

His first time in space took a while to get used to, adding: “Your stomach and inner ear are telling the brain, ‘I’m confused, what’s going on?”

Still, despite the wonders of flying with what NASA head Mike Griffin recently described as “the most amazing machine humans have ever built,” Spring believes it’s time for the Orbiters to be retired.

“It’s about time. Long past due,” he said. “It was a workhorse for a while, but we’re finding out it’s a lot more fragile than we thought.”

However, Spring believes it’s human destiny to go back to the Moon and on to Mars.

“I remember talking to the astronauts who went to the Moon,” said Spring, “and asking if they ever gaze up and think, ‘I was there.’

“Almost to a man they said ‘No. Because it was more about the trip. It’s about exploring new things. Doing something new.

“Whether it’s a hundred years from now or 500 years from now,” he added, “I think there will be colonies on the Moon and Mars.”

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