Friday, September 21, 2012

Fair winds and following seas Endeavour!

Well, that's what we would say to someone retiring from the Navy....though I'm not sure what's appropriate to say to a faithful space shuttle.

Today we were lucky enough that the shuttle flew over Vandenberg Air Force Base, and I had a pretty prime viewing area on the roof of our building. Quite a crowd gathered (not sure what the structural loading is for the roof, but we had a good group up there, and an even bigger group on the ground. I ventured closer to the edge than most and got some interesting looks from a few of the managers who were silly enough to stand in the parking lot (pure jealousy I'm sure, and mad that THEY didn't think to come up there too I'm pretty sure!)

Anyway, without further adieu, here are my 5 best shots as it approached, broadsided and then continued on south towards Los Angeles. These were taken with my little Lumix point and shoot...I can only dream of the quality shots I would have if I had a larger digital camera.


Gosh, it's still hard for me to believe that there will be NO MORE shuttle flights, EVER! Space Shuttle launches have been going on most of my adult life. You just expect things to continue on forever, but they don't (except taxes I mean).

I have to imagine the pilot has been having the time of his's not often you get clearance to take a 747 down LOW over all kinds of places populated with people. We were watching online during the morning as was showing live video coverage from the chase-plane in the bay area. Apparently the guy doing the video from the plane used to work at my place...and he got a job over at Edwards a while back (before I came here, as I didn't' know him)...but a lot of people were very excited that their old friend was in the chase plane. Boy, what a lucky dog to draw THAT assignment!

I know my brother Greg was somewhat miffed (probably not the correct word, but I'll be nice) as his jobsite did NOT get a flyover. You see, Greg was recruited by Rocketdyne out of college (an astronaut flew his jet into Bozeman Mt where he was going to school to take him to dinner and give him the full-court-press to come work for Rockwell (this was in late 75 or early 76 if I recall). Well, he took that job and has been with Rocketdyne pretty much ever since. They make rocket engines there. At least they made most of them for the manned space program anyway...Saturn V's (not sure about Mercury/Gemeni...I know those were based on missiles so I doubt it). Anyway...he worked with the Shuttle main engine Turbo-pump program for many years doing design and such (he is a mechanical engineer...actually both my brothers are ME's).

And speaking of my other brother (Dave), he also worked at Rocketdyne after college (also Montana State Univ. in Bozeman). He interned at Rdyne for one or 2 summers and accepted their job offer upon graduation. He stayed with them for many years, and then transferred to Space Station (where he still is today, only now he's down in Texas at Johnson Space Center). So needless to say, both my bro's have EXTENSIVE space shuttle history. Anyway, of all the places they flew to and over in the last 3 days, (including really important places to the shuttle program like Sacramento and Modesto, among others), the Rocketdyne factory in Canoga Park, CA did NOT rate a flyover. So Greg and his friends drove up into the mountains for a viewing area looking over the city area. I got an email from him, he said that his photos and viewing experience were nothing like mine (I'm sorry to say).

And that is that. It landed in LAX somewhere around 1pm today. It will be towed thru the streets to it's final resting home this weekend I believe...a children's museum somewhere in Los Angeles (also very important to the shuttle program). I know my brother Dave is also somewhat 'miffed', as Johnson Space Center (Mission Control for ALL of the United States manned space flights, taking over from Kennedy Space Center the moment each launch cleared the tower) did NOT get a retired shuttle. Important places like NYC and Los Angeles did though. And Virginia. All VERY VERY important to the program.

Thankfully, I'm much less bitter as I didn't really have anything to do with the shuttle program other than root for my brothers and revel in their success over the years. I think we rated a flyby here at Vandenberg as our runway was lengthened way back when for shuttle landings. Also one of our launch pads (Space Launch Complex 6, or SLC-6) was built and readied for shuttle launches. We had the Enterprise out here for fit-checks of the tower and umbilical in the early 80's. And one of the buildings I work at was built to house the shuttles and prep them for has the giant rolling doors and a concrete runway from the base runway right into the building to this very day, and up above the rolling doors there was a small door section that was for the tail to go thru, as it was even taller than the door.

After Challenger blew up and the successive 'no launch' period that went on for many years, it was decided to scrap co-launching shuttles from here (too expensive to maintain 2 sites), and all future launches would be from KSC. So the pad sat vacant for a long time before being converted to fly Delta IV rockets (which hae Rocketdyne engines in them btw, my brother Dave worked on that engine for a few years before he moved to Space Station). SLC-6 still has many shuttle-era items of note is the emergency escape zip-line system they made so the crew could theoretically make a hasty retreat away from the shuttle/tower, (providing they had the time anyway) was purely a feel-good thing as most likely if anything THAT bad were to happen the entire complex would be obliterated in a moment. We still have many people around who worked on that pad and have pictures of the Enterprise out there and in our buildings.

And so. The Last Space Shuttle has made it's last flight.

How utterly sad. Pathetic actually. Now we pay for the Russians to get our people to and from the Space Station. We are basically paying for THEIR manned space program, as we no longer have one of our own the first time since the early 1960's.

So today was a bitter-sweet day for me. I was quite excited that we got a flyby, but now...well, turn out the lights, the party's over.

I think I'll have a toast to the last shuttle tonight.

Bon voyage Endeavour. You will be missed.

And thanks for the memories!



  1. A very poignant post for me, Matt. I have lived on the East Central Coast of Florida for almost thirty years now and Shuttle launches were always there. I watched Challenger from about ten miles away. I have seen night launches (WOW!) and I have watched from a little sailboat at sea. I share with you your thoughts on the twist of fate for the U.S space program; the area where I live, never an economic powerhouse, was hit pretty hard by this latest and most outrageous example of out-sourcing.

    I have a particularly fond memory of one time back in '88 (I think) when the shuttle came by piggyback on a Sunday in Cocoa Beach during the wet t-shirt contest at the Thirsty Turtle, a rowdy beachfront saloon. They flew by low and slow, just off the deck. Man! I was proud to be an American that day! Beer, breasts and one of the greatest, (hell, THE greatest) symbols of American git-er-done in our history.


    1. Hey tj...I was working at the cape a few years back and was lucky enough to FINALLY see a launch (my bro Dave was in town, and we met up and were about as close as people could be...just a hundred yards or so from the astronaut vehicle that is waiting to evac them if something goes wrong). It was quite awesome (tho I'd have given a lot to have seen a night launch too). Then 13 days later or so I got to 'sort of' see the landing. There was the trademark double sonic-boom (which is VERY COOL!), then we all looked and looked, and due to the wind direction it came in on the opposite side of the runway from where we were (drats!) we saw the tiny speck coming round the final turn, the chase planes, and then it was down and we couldn't see much after that. Still it was cool tho. And now no more.

      Watching from a sailboat would be wicked're lucky to have those memories. Just like the older folk who lived thru the Apollo launches, we had the shuttles. Kids these days aren't gonna get much it appears...they're getting gyped! A whole generation will grow up w/ no manned flights from here...It's just STUPID. But hey...gotta keep up all that free stuff. Me, I was promised FREE medical for life (I'm retired Navy) but they changed that a while I gotta pay (it's still a really good least for the moment...that will change in the next few years most likely cuz we r broke). kind'a' political there...

      Thanks for stoppin by, n I'm glad to see ur faithful steed is back on the road. Be safe out there!

  2. Very cool pics! Amazing to see that close I'm sure. So Matt, you and both brothers are working on spacecraft/rockets/launches? How did that happen? Is there a story there?

    I vividly remember rising in what seemed like the middle of the night to watch the first shuttle launch. I was amazed, excited, wowed. You're is very sad that my kids won't have anything like that. It does seem almost impossible that shuttles will no longer be utilized - we were just so used to having them.

    We spent the weekend camping. Brrrrrrr! Freeze last night!! I am NOT ready for freezing temps yet. Had to turn the furnace on this evening upon our return. Too early for me!

    Hope you all had a great weekend :)

  3. The shuttle program was amazing...and it came at such a cost, in our astronauts lives more than money, that it seems so very odd that we had no further goal that we were reaching toward--I mean that we can now turn to another country, and the space station itself is due to be abandoned too I think?

    But for me, none of it matched the thrill of those very first launches. I remember that all the TV networks would show them, and the school somehow came up with TVs for the classrooms so we could watch each launch. Then to see the pictures of the moon! And to think this was all done with the very minimal computers that were available (if at all...did you know that the now retired supersonic transport jets had not a single computer on board?)



  4. Well, I got an email from Greg (my brother) and it turns out that MY memories of HIS experiences is somewhat different than what HE recalls...I figured I'd best put his own words here rather than edit the post.

    "Yeah, Deke Slayton did come to my college at my invitation during my senior year. I was his host and coordinated his visit. He flew into Bozeman International Airport in his T-38, it made quite a stir when he landed and left it parked there. He was there as the keynote speaker for the ASME (American society of mechanical engineers) national student conference (that we hosted). He was not there to take me to dinner and convince me to go to work for Rocketdyne. We took him trout fishing in the Madison river after our conference (he went home with a lot of trout in his T-38 luggage container- which coincidently looked like a fuel drop tank!). He did make a powerful impression on me- he was a freakin astronaut!!!! I’m not sure I had accepted Rocketdyne’s offer by then or not. Coincidence on my career choice? If I had take a job at NASA (or had I interviewed or even thought to put in an application), it would have been different- likely would have taken that over Rocketdyne as I was pretty naive then.

    Rocketdyne built all the liquid rocket engines for all US people put into space, except for the titan boosters for Gemini and a couple of mercury. The Saturn V that took people to the moon had 28 Rocketdyne engines, including the F-1, the 1.5M lb thrust booster engine. One of these is on display in front of our Canoga facility."

    Gee Greg...I'm CRUSHED! All these years I thought he flew into Bozeman to court YOU into joining the company! Still a very cool story tho. And the fact that you've MET Deke Slayton is wicked cool too!

    And so, I've set the record straight. Somehow my 35 yr old memories have failed me. Which is only fair, as my 2 day old memories always fail me lately.

  5. Hey, a last bit of cycling on TV before the end of the season!
    Sunday at 4pm is a delayed broadcast of the world ports classic on NBC sports, and the following Sunday is Paris-Tours


  6. All 3 Chapek boys are fabulous! Your parents must be so proud! Smart, hard working, successful, but even more importantly, kind, considerate, caring. If all boys/men from or in Montana are like you guys & word gets out, there will be a STAMPEDE of single women into the Big Horn state. :)

    Loved your camping trip photos & write-up (gosh, just BEA-U-TI-FUL!) And this piece about the end of an era gave me the sniffles. But hey, how can you not remember the Apollo shots? I thought we were close in age & I remember everything going back to John Glen. Our county's schools were a beta test area for 'TV education', so every classroom had a TV, from elementary up thru Jr High. And every time there was a rocket launch, that's what we watched. The Moon Landing (July 69) happened while I was at summer camp & the camp had us all come to the Dining Hall that night (in our jammies) to watch the ONE black & white TV they brought in. It was SO exciting! And as we walked back to our cabins, we all looked up at the moon & "debated" whether we could "see" them. LOL!

    Later Gators! :) :)

    1. Hey Susie...long time no hear!

      Yes, I do remember the Apollo missions...and also recall watching the Apollo 11 landing w/ Walter Cronkite narrating...(the live footage was in B&W). I think watching Neil Armstrong stepping off the lander onto the moon is probably the most awesome thing I've ever seen. What an amazing thing WE did!

      JFK said it right..."we choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard". Possibly the most awesome statement ever made by a President! Gives me goose bumps just thinking about it all!

      Oh, and just to set the record straight, Montana is the "The Treasure State" (but the license plates call it "Big Sky Country"...or at least they used to), and Wyo is "The Cowboy State"...tho there is a small town called Big Horn in Wyo (it was very close to Sheridan where I was born and and lived till I was dad's best friend and family lived there and were out there all the time visiting) I kind'a claim both states as my home-state. And then there is the Big Horn Mts in Wyo, and also the famous "Little Big Horn" (where Custer and the 7th Calvary was wiped out...also not very far from Sheridan, and I've been there many times...tho that was LONG LONG ago).

      And thank you for the kind bro's are quite smart indeed (I'm the black sheep of the family...opted for the Navy vice college...cuz I'd had enough of school. Who was to know that I'd have YEARS worth of schools in the service, tho I got PAID for student loans to pay off...funny how things work out).

      Anyway, glad to see you back...was wondering where you went and if everything was ok.

  7. Oh, anybody else been following Fatty's the last week or so? Boy, he's a real player these days! Checked in on Twitter...Team Fatty (Fatty, Kristin Armstrong and Tommy D) whipped Levi, Rebecca Rush and Patrick whats-his-name (the actor from Grays Anatomy...tho I have to admit I had no idea who he was when Fatty named him as doing the race with them...guess I don't get out much). I can't wait to see pics of Levi wearing the propeller beannie-cap that Fatty got for him in case his team lost! That will be something!

    Ok...I'm off to bed...hope to get out somewhat early tomorrow (Saturday) and do my own long ride (being as I'm not up at Levi's Grand Fondo in Santa Rosa this weekend, darn it). It would have been a blast, but kind'a pricey for me...(I'm flying to Indianapolis for a wedding next Thurs, so w/ airfare, rental, food, gift, etc. I'm kind'a tapped out just now).

    Have a great weekend! Fall is's gonna start getting cold (and dark) very soon now I'm afraid..enjoy every moment of daylight you can!