I worked the STS-132 launch last Friday. It was a very quiet countdown with no issues, and the weather in Florida stayed clear to allow a right-on-time liftoff. Someone pointed out to me that the last four missions have all launched either as scheduled or only a single day late. It’s nice that we have been able to fly these final flights without major delay after a stretch of bad luck with fuel sensors and such in recent years. It was also nice to have a launch in the early afternoon; for the first time in a while, I didn’t have to either get up in the wee hours of the morning or stay up until the wee hours of the night. (Interestingly, I think those “wee hours” are the same whether you call it morning or night — anything in the 2-4 am time frame is “wee” to me!)
All was well on my console during the 8.5 minutes of powered flight. Each mission that I have worked has gone a little easier, but I still got butterflies in my stomach when it really sunk in that we were only a few minutes from launching space shuttle Atlantis on its 32nd and final flight into orbit. It has spent almost 300 days in space and traveled more than 115,000,000 miles in its 25-year career. Impressive numbers for an impressive feat of science and engineering.
This is the last mission I will ever work as ARD Support Officer. The two remaining flights are assigned to the two other ARDs, so I will finish my days as an ARD for the space shuttle with a grand total of 7 ascents supported. Even though my more recent role as Rendezvous Officer arguably carries more weight and more responsibility, being an ARD is and will always be special to me. It’s the first flight control position that I certified for, and it’s where I first supported a flight in Mission Control. I have no idea how things will change once the final shuttle mission lands, and I have no idea where I will end up a few years from now, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my 3 years and 7 flights as an ARD Support Officer.