After running around the news center like a chicken with his head cut off and tons of torrential downpours involving a Phase II lightning warning and the shuttle having a close encounter with a bolt, they finally cleared us for Rotating Service Structure (RSS) retract, where they reveal the shuttle. However, due to the weather, as we got there, it was already retracted.
When I first got out of the vehicle, my jaw was on the ground. For one of a few moments in my life, I was actually speechless. I was at a total loss for words at the giant, yet somehow gentle, monster which stood before me. I stood there mesmerized at the sheer size and magnitude of it. Compared to the models and the pictures, it is bigger vertically with the full stack. A true beauty. Although it was cloudy, the overcast skies represent the ominous future of the future of America's space program, and yet at the same time cast a small light on the shear magnificence of a vehicle which has served a nation, through good times and bad, for 30 years.
When I was finally able to collect myself, I began snapping photographs left and right. In total, I came out with 151 photographs from just a few hundred feet from this American icon. Finally, one person came up to me and said the one piece of advice I am very glad I listened to. The New Zealand native said, "Put the lens down for five minutes and just make a permanent mental image in your mind of what you're seeing". It was the best idea I have ever heard, and took full advantage of those five minutes.
Of course, we had to pose for the photos in front of the vehicle. I am still, as I type, floored by what a stupendous vehicle we as humans, not just Americans, have built. This is the pride and glory of the space program, from Hubble to ISS, the shuttle made it possible. It diversified space travel, and in some way, whether through spinoffs or just being amazed by its capabilities, has touched all of us deep inside, and that's something all of us, myself especially, will take away from being one of the last press members to get that close to a vehicle on the pad.
As a side note, I then interviewed STS-130 astronaut Terry Virts and Expedition 26/27 astronaut as well as two-time shuttle flier Cady Coleman, and will have those clips either for the live show or for our next episode.
Go Atlantis and God Speed on launch day! Sawyer