Somehow the flyover of Tucson by the Space Shuttle was a nice way to say goodbye to the old space program for me. From what I can tell the buzzing of the U of A campus was a last minute request by the last person to pilot/command the shuttle, Mark Kelly. His wife didn't get to really experience that last flight because she was recovering from an assassination attempt. They were on the top of a parking garage today for the flyover. That was neat! Local news covered it of course. Apparently since the flight path went over Tucson anyway, from Houston to Edwards Air Force Base, this little buzz was requested by Mark for Gabby yesterday. Double neato.
In the late 1970s I spent a couple summers in Berkeley, CA. My Uncle Carl had worked at Edwards Air Force Base, for a couple decades. He was in the trouble shooting engineering dept that worked on optics/camera for moon landings and he managed to get my boyfriend and I and another couple VIP passes to see the first free flight test of the shuttle. They took it up piggyback, just like today's flight, on a 747, and then it disconnected for computer testing and landing. It was amazing. It was in August, the Perseid meteor shower was at its peak the night before the launch, and we drove all night from the Bay Area to Edwards. The meteor shower was spectacular and at dawn as we got close to where my uncle and aunt lived, we had to stop for a shepherd to finish having his flock of sheep cross the road. At that time, LA had not sprawled north that far and there were still Basque shepherds in the Antelope Valley.
After introductions and a cup of coffee we piled into my uncle's old nondescript car that had been aged and naturally sand blasted to perfectly match the surrounding Mojave Desert and drove toward Edwards AFB. We went through checkpoint after checkpoint with crowds of people standing to watch the test flight outside each checkpoint. At every checkpoint there were fewer people, and finally at the last one, we went through and turned behind some hangars to park in an open air parking lot and there in the next section over in the parking lot was the Shuttle on top of the 747. We really were in the VIP section with Senators, and Military Brass all standing around outside the hangars. The roar of the crowd at the successful glide in still resounds when I remember. Pretty neato. And yes, we saw the take off, separation and landing. Those dry lake beds are amazing and perfect for landing spacecraft.
Having personal visual memories on either side of the Space Shuttle program frames an era literally and figuratively for me. It must mean I'm old. Or lucky. Yes, lucky. Pre and post program memories. Thanks Uncle Carl, you would have liked today here in Tucson.