Wednesday, January 2, 2013

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Get that flu shot!

THE CHRON: If you've been putting off your annual flu shot, don't delay any longer: Texas is already being hit hard this flu season.
Houston-area hospitals have seen a spike in the number of emergency room visits for flu-like symptoms, said Porfirio Villarreal, spokesman for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. During the week of Nov. 18, about 1,580 visits to emergency rooms were attributed to flu-like illnesses, compared with just 249 visits during the same week last year, Villarreal said.
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization or even death, the CDC says.
Every flu season is different, and even healthy people can get very sick from the disease and spread it to others. From 1976 to 2007, estimates of U.S. deaths each year due to flu ranged from 3,000 to 49,000.
"Flu is predictably unpredictable," said Dr. Gail Demmler-Harrison, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Texas Children's Hospital and pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine. "There's no cause for alarm but cause for action. People should get themselves vaccinated so it doesn't get any worse."
National Influenza Vaccination Week, a campaign established in 2005 to counter the notion that December is too late to get a vaccination, ends Saturday. Once a vaccine is administered, it takes about two weeks to develop immunity.
Although the influenza season usually peaks in February, 48 states and Puerto Rico have reported cases, with rates rising quickly nationwide, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week.
Along with Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee are also reporting high levels of activity.
In Houston, Texas Children's Hospital has seen an early start to the season with 123 confirmed cases of Type A influenza and 32 cases of Type B, compared with just two Type A cases in the same span last year, Demmler-Harrison said.
Everyone who is at least 6 months old should get a flu vaccination, but the CDC says it's especially important for these groups:
» People at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get the flu, including those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
» Pregnant women.
» People 65 years and older.
» People who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fisherman finds woman's body

KHOU TEXAS CITY — A fisherman who heard a “report” along Galveston Bay found the body of a woman, who died Thursday morning, apparently of self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Al Rohrer of Clear Lake was fishing along Skyline Drive near the Bay Street extension when he heard an explosive noise that sounded like a gunshot. The noise was too close to have come from the nearby gun range, he said.
Click here to read more at the Galveston Daily News.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Galveston mother attacked by child napper

LEAGUE CITY, Texas -- A Galveston mother says she was sitting in the car with her son on Wednesday when a woman attacked her and tried to take off with the child in a grocery store parking lot.
It happened outside the Kroger located in the 200-block of S Egret Bay Boulevard in League City. The mother was waiting for her husband to come out of the store when the altercation occurred.
The mom told KHOU 11 News she had her windows rolled down when a woman reached in and tried to grab the baby.
“My first instinct was for my child, so I naturally pulled him to the other side away from her,” said Carly Oquendo-Smith outside of her Galveston home. “I’m just glad it’s over and I want her to get the help she needs.”
The mother got a few scratches on her head and her arms, but she and her child were not seriously injured.
The suspect, identified as Melanie James, was arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping. She was being held on a $20,000 bond.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Drones could benefit Clear Lake

THE CHRON: From rebuilding airplanes during World War I, to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake, Texas has always been a national leader in aerospace and aviation. Now Texas is poised to lead toward a new horizon, and boost our economy and create jobs in the process.
Earlier this year, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, legislation requiring the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to integrate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into our national airspace by 2015. As part of this process, the FAA will designate six test sites around the country for the development of UAS.
States are eagerly formulating proposals to bid for one of these designations, which would undoubtedly bring with it significant investment from aerospace companies. As the FAA considers the proposals, Texas' resume would be tough to beat.
First, Texas is already pioneering real-world applications for UAS. The Arlington Police Department is testing and developing this technology for specific missions such as search and rescue, natural disaster recovery and documenting crime scenes. These systems provide much of the capability of a traditional manned aircraft at a fraction of the cost, saving taxpayer dollars.
Second, Texas already has a thriving aerospace industry, which would only grow and create new jobs with an FAA test site. A 2011 report by the Governor's Economic Development and Tourism office maintains that our state's aerospace and aviation industry directly employs approximately 200,000 workers at 1,665 companies. The opportunity for additional growth is ripe. In fact, the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF), spearheaded by Gov. Rick Perry and established by the Texas Legislature to help attract new jobs and investment to the state, has infused nearly $44.5 million into aerospace-related projects.
We also have significant home-grown talent. The University of Houston and Texas Southern University are two of the state's universities invested in aerospace and aviation-related research and development. In all, the state has 23 university aeronautical programs, 36 public high schools offering aeronautical courses and 13 FAA-approved aviation maintenance technology schools, according to the governor's report.
To lead in unmanned aircraft development would be to remain at the forefront of an industry poised for considerable growth. In 2010, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the trade association for UAS manufacturers and operators, estimated that the incorporation of unmanned aircraft into national airspace would result in 23,000 new jobs by 2025. And these are high-paying jobs. Translating into roughly $106.6 million in wages each year, these jobs include UAS pilots, systems engineers and maintenance specialists, among others. These highly skilled positions have starting salaries of around $55,000 per year and many have the potential to increase to upward of $100,000-plus per year.
A test site would not just be bringing jobs to Texas, but jobs advancing a technology that could greatly benefit society. Unmanned aircraft can safely fly through smoke-filled skies to help firefighters battle wildfires. They are flying through hurricanes, giving scientists a never-before-seen look into the storms and allowing them to better predict their paths and potentially save lives. Energy companies want them to efficiently survey pipelines, power lines and other infrastructure at a fraction of the cost of manned flights. The potential applications of this technology are limitless.
The FAA is expected to announce the winners of the test sites later this year. Texas should put forward a strong bid to create new jobs, economic growth and continue our state's tradition as an aviation leader as we enter this new era of flight.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Space shuttle ferry brings Endeavor over Clear Lake

NASA managers have postponed the ferry flight of space shuttle Endeavour to Wednesday, Sept. 19. 

The decision was made to ensure a safe flight for Endeavour and the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. A low pressure front in the northern Gulf of Mexico is generating thunderstorms along the predicted flight path.

Managers will hold another weather briefing at 11 a.m. Tuesday. 
The route of photo-ops is in keeping with the final flights taken by the shuttle Enterprise, which flew by the Statue of Liberty on its way to a New York City museum, and the shuttle Discovery, which buzzed monuments in Washington, D.C., before landing at a Smithsonian annex at Dulles International Airport.
On its trip from Kennedy Space Center, Endeavour will also do fly-bys of NASA facilities that played big roles during the 30-year shuttle program.
Endeavour will leave Kennedy Space Center at sunrise Sept. 19, flying over Florida's Space Coast and then over NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., and its Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
It will then fly over Houston, Clear Lake and Galveston in Texas before landing at Ellington Field near NASA's Johnson Space Center.
On Sept. 20 the shuttle will head to Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso for refueling and conduct low-level flyovers of White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, N.M.
About midday, Endeavour is expected to touch down at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards air base in the Mojave Desert, where it sometimes landed on its own after space missions.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Studio Movie Grill welcomed to League City

LEAGUE CITY, Texas—The City of League City’s plan to establish an entertainment district, a place where families can eat, shop and play, is beginning to take shape.
The plan is one step closer to reality as Dallas- based Studio Movie Grill announced plans to build its twelfth location near League City’s Victory Lakes Town Center at the northeast corner of I-45 and Victory Lakes Drive.
“We are very pleased to welcome Studio Movie Grill to League City,” said Mayor Tim Paulissen. “The new theater is a win- win for our community, from the creation of new jobs, to a new attraction to shape our entertainment district, and a place within our own city where residents and visitors can enjoy dinner and a movie,” said Mayor Paulissen. “Studio Movie Grill’s plan is a great asset to our community, it could mean a 9 million dollar investment into League City, increased sales tax revenue and a great anchor to draw more businesses into the community,” said Mike Loftin, League City City Manager.
Studio Movie Grill, the leader and pioneer of the movie-grill concept, offers visitors a state of the art movie and dining experience with the affordable luxury of a spacious auditorium, high-end lounge chairs and dining tables reminiscent of an upscale hotel lobby. It also offers an extensive menu of over 100 items from popcorn and candy to gourmet pizza and specialty cocktails.
“We couldn’t be more excited about bringing this expansion to the League City,” said Brian Schultz, SMG’s Founder and President. “We think our customers will be excited to see the major improvements we’ve made; enhancements to our brand that will ultimately be integrated into all our Texas locations.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Historic rains soak Houston & vicinity

CBS/AP) HOUSTON - Historic rainfall levels that drenched the Houston area this week flooded dozens of homes and caused widespread street flooding, but the rain also is likely to result in the end of drought conditions in Southeast Texas, officials said Friday.
Officials estimated that fewer than 100 homes were flooded after Cypress Creek, located in the northwest part of the Houston area, rose above its banks after getting about 14 inches of rain over the past couple of days, said Francisco Sanchez, a spokesman for the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
County officials were still trying to reach flooded neighborhoods oan Friday to better assess the damage, but initial reports had homes affected anywhere from a few inches to a couple of feet of water, Sanchez said.
"Some areas along Cypress Creek got more rain in the last 24 hours than in Hurricane Ike (in 2008) or from major flooding in 1998," Sanchez said.
CBS Affiliate KHOU reports it will be mostly dry Saturday morning, but there is a 60-percent chance of rain beginning in the afternoon.
A flood warning is in effect until 8:50 a.m. Sunday for northwest Harris County and Montgomery County. A flood warning is in effect until 10 Sunday night for the Spring Creek area of Harris County.
In northwest Harris County, a good portion of the subdivision called the Enchanted Valley Estates was only accessible by boat. Homeowners could be seen using canoes, pontoon boats and even a jet ski to navigate around the area.
Firefighters rescued several families from the Norchester subdivision near Cypress Creek Friday when two to three feet of water seeped into their homes overnight.
Several people also had to be rescued early Friday morning after driving into high water.
Gary Whitaker Jr., who lives in one of the areas affected by Cypress Creek, said street flooding in his neighborhood had started to recede on Friday but a nearby subdivision still had streets that were impassable. Water from the creek was flowing "like a waterfall" across one street and into a golf course, he said.
"Quite a few people in our subdivision couldn't go to work today. They couldn't get out (due to flooded streets). It was pretty risky," he said.
Whitaker, 36, who lives in Cypress, an unincorporated area in northwest Harris County, said there were no reports of flooded homes in his neighborhood.
The American Red Cross in Houston sent out workers Friday to affected neighborhoods to assess the flooded homes, said spokesman Cameron Ballantyne. The agency had not opened any shelters.
In Montgomery County, located just north of Harris County, officials reported seven to eight flooded homes.
A shelter had been opened in Montgomery County at Living Stones Church in Magnolia, but church secretary Linda Arnold said no residents had used the facility.
Victor Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service, said one rain gauge on the border of Harris and Waller counties recorded 10.3 inches of rain in a 10 hour period.
Murphy said that amount of precipitation within that short period of time suggests that area experienced a "100-year rainfall event," which caused Cypress Creek to overflow.
Other areas in Southeast Texas also got large amounts of rain, including just west of Bay City in Matagorda County, which received about 18 inches this past week.
"Rainfall in the entire (Southeast Texas) area this week was in the 8 to 10 inch category," he said. "The average weekly rainfall for this time of year is about 1 inch or so."
While the current U.S. Drought Monitor shows some parts of Southeast Texas as being abnormally dry, that does not include this week's rainfall totals.
"When the next U.S. Drought Monitor comes out Thursday, there will not be any drought in Southeast Texas," Murphy said. Most of the rest of the state was expected to remain in drought conditions.
Even if Southeast Texas only experiences average rainfall or dry weather the rest of the summer, drought conditions should be kept at bay until at least the fall, Murphy said.
Sanchez said officials were hopeful Cypress Creek, which was still rising Friday, would eventually recede if the area was not inundated with more rain. Water levels at two other nearby creeks which had also flowed out of their banks, had started to fall.
Rain was forecast for this weekend but the chances of showers were expected to be lower than earlier this week.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Clear Lake Shores files lawsuit over mess ..

CLEAR LAKE SHORES, Texas — The city of Clear Lake Shores has filed a lawsuit against former City Councilman Jackie Fuller claiming Fuller owns a property that poses a health and environmental hazard.

In the lawsuit, the city is asking for payment of civil penalties that could total more than $160,000.

The city claims there are junked cars on the lot at 1014 Aspen St. in Clear Lake Shores, as well as a collection of “unsightly, objectionable or unsanitary matter.”
Click here to read more at theGalveston Daily News.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Space Center hosting "Shuttlebration"

:Space Center Houston invites you to attend “Shuttlebration Weekend” in honor of the arrival of the full-size Space Shuttle replica, arriving on Friday, June 1  by barge at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) dock located at 3000 NASA Parkway on Clear Lake near the Houston Hilton NASA Clear Lake hotel. 

Following the replica’s arrival, which is estimated between 3 and 5 p.m., there will be a free celebration for the public between the dock and the hotel. The event area will open at 2 p.m.  for viewing as the replica arrives at the dock to the welcoming fanfare of a fire boat water arch. The event will include space exploration exhibits and activities, food, entertainment and a fireworks show to end the evening at 9 p.m.  Note: There will be no pets, coolers or outside food/beverages allowed in the event area. 

Public parking will be provided on NASA’s Johnson Space Center property using Gate 3 for entrance/exit located off of Space Center Blvd. with tram transportation to and from the event location. No public parking is available at the event.
On Saturday, June 2, the Space Shuttle replica will be loaded onto a mobile transfer vehicle for transport to Space Center Houston. The lakeside load-out will take a full day to complete.? There are no public events planned for this day.
On Sunday, June 3, the replica will make an estimated three-hour trek down NASA Parkway from the Hilton to its permanent home at Space Center Houston. Once on Space Center Houston property, the replica will be welcomed by JSC’s prototype planetary rovers for future solar system exploration, local scout troops and marching bands as it is rolled to its location. Following the arrival, there will be a free family-oriented public celebration in the Space Center Houston parking lot from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., offering viewing opportunities of the replica, NASA space exploration exhibits, fun activities for the entire family and much more.

For detailed “Shuttlebration Weekend” information and traffic advisories, visit

Venus to transit Sun - don't look at it.

click to enlarge

On June 5th, 2012, Venus will pass across the face of the sun, producing a silhouette that no one alive today will likely see again.

Transits of Venus are very rare, coming in pairs separated by more than a hundred years. This June's transit, the bookend of a 2004-2012 pair, won't be repeated until the year 2117. Fortunately, the event is widely visible. Observers on seven continents, even a sliver of Antarctica, will be in position to see it. 

The nearly 7-hour transit begins at 3:09 pm Pacific Daylight Time (22:09 UT) on June 5th. The timing favors observers in the mid-Pacific where the sun is high overhead during the crossing. In the USA, the transit will be at its best around sunset. That's good, too. Creative photographers will have a field day imaging the swollen red sun "punctured" by the circular disk of Venus.

Observing tip: Do not stare at the sun. Venus covers too little of the solar disk to block the blinding glare. Instead, use some type of projection technique or a solar filter. A #14 welder's glass is a good choice. Many astronomy clubs will have solar telescopes set up to observe the event; contact your local club for details.

Transits of Venus first gained worldwide attention in the 18th century. In those days, the size of the solar system was one of the biggest mysteries of science. The relative spacing of planets was known, but not their absolute distances. How many miles would you have to travel to reach another world? The answer was as mysterious then as the nature of dark energy is now.

Venus was the key, according to astronomer Edmund Halley. He realized that by observing transits from widely-spaced locations on Earth it should be possible to triangulate the distance to Venus using the principles of parallax.

The idea galvanized scientists who set off on expeditions around the world to view a pair of transits in the 1760s. The great explorer James Cook himself was dispatched to observe one from Tahiti, a place as alien to 18th-century Europeans as the Moon or Mars might seem to us now. Some historians have called the international effort the "the Apollo program of the 18th century."

Photo from the 2004 Venus Transit showing Venus and the International Space Station crossing the sun.› View larger
A double transit: the International Space Station and Venus on June 8, 2004. Photo courtesy of Tomas Maruska.
In retrospect, the experiment falls into the category of things that sound better than they actually are. Bad weather, primitive optics, and the natural "fuzziness" of Venus’s atmosphere and other factors prevented those early observers from gathering the data they needed. Proper timing of a transit would have to wait for the invention of photography in the century after Cook’s voyage. In the late 1800s, astronomers armed with cameras finally measured the size of the Solar System as Edmund Halley had suggested.

This year’s transit is the second of an 8-year pair. Anticipation was high in June 2004 as Venus approached the sun. No one alive at the time had seen a Transit of Venus with their own eyes, and the hand-drawn sketches and grainy photos of previous centuries scarcely prepared them for what was about to happen. Modern solar telescopes captured unprecedented view of Venus’s atmosphere backlit by solar fire. They saw Venus transiting the sun’s ghostly corona, and gliding past magnetic filaments big enough to swallow the planet whole.

2012 should be even better as cameras and solar telescopes have improved. Moreover, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is going to be watching too. SDO will produce Hubble-quality images of this rare event.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Naked unicyclist gets ticketed

KEMAH, Texas — Police say a man arrested in a Southeast Texas city for riding his unicycle in the nude was distracting drivers and creating a hazard.
Kemah (KEE’-muh) police Chief Greg Rikard (RY’-kurd) says 45-year-old Joseph Glynn Farley was not intoxicated or impaired when he was arrested Wednesday on a bridge in the city 20 miles southeast of Houston.
Rikard says Farley had been falling off the unicycle and into traffic.
Farley told officers that he liked the feeling of riding without his clothes, which were found at the base of the bridge.
Police charged Farley, of Clear Lake, with misdemeanor indecent exposure. Bond is set at $1,500.
Online jail records did not list an attorney for Farley.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Published: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 8:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 8:20 p.m.
Robert Oehl grew up with astronauts for neighbors. In Clear Lake City, Texas, during the Apollo space mission years, Oehl was surrounded by what he calls the pinnacle of human achievement: space flight.
“To say Neil Armstrong lived here and Buzz Aldrin lived there is amazing,” he said, remembering walking down his block as a teen.
Or even passing Jim Lovell, the Apollo 13 commander, when he walked around town, to this day tickles him.
“It was an exciting time when America was on top of the world,” Oehl said.
His father, Don Oehl, worked for Grumman Aircraft as a senior field representative in the lunar module program. He also worked on the fuel cells for the Apollo 13 mission.
The infamous flight nearly didn't make it home after an oxygen tank exploded and two of the three fuel cells lost power almost 200,000 miles from Earth in 1970, according to
His father, along with others in the team, sat in the Apollo simulator to figure out the problem and eventually get the three astronauts home alive.
“Those are the real national heroes,” Robert Oehl said of those in the NASA program.
Now, Oehl, co-founder and director of the Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum, gets to sit in his own simulator and teach the next generation to appreciate and understand the final frontier.

Red the rest of the story HERE.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Last shuttle ferry captivates nation ...

WASHINGTON -- Retired space shuttle Discovery streaked across the sky one last time Tuesday, piggybacking on a modified Boeing 747 jetliner to Washington Dulles International Airport as it headed for its final resting place: on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Caroline Boucher, who was visiting from Bangor, Pa.

Tourists and locals gathered on the National Mall, on rooftops and at other sites around the nation’s capital to see the historic shuttle in flight before it goes on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

A 7-year-old boy dressed as an astronaut posed for pictures as his sister stomped on a toy air pump, firing a foam rocket into the air. Bystanders gazed with binoculars, pointing and taking photos as the conjoined crafts took a tandem flight over Washington at an approximate altitude of 1,500 feet — less than three times the height of the Washington Monument — perfect for viewing.

“Wow,” Boucher said. “That’s so cool.”
The monstrous pairing made three passes over the National Mall, where more than 100 spectators had gathered around the Washington Monument. Onlookers gasped, cheered, oohed and aahed, breaking into applause once Discovery cruised out of sight for the last time.
“I feel like I should burst into patriotic song,” exclaimed Meg Cuvellier, a nurse from Litchfield, N.H.

With more flights into space than any other craft, Discovery has circled Earth 5,628 times and carried 246 crew members to orbit. During a mission in 1998, one of those crew members was astronaut John Glenn, then 77 years old. The former senator — the first American to orbit Earth, in 1962 — became the oldest astronaut to fly into space.
The historical significance resonated for Lisa Percival of Seattle, who was in Washington on a one-day layover and staying three blocks from the Mall. Percival was in kindergarten when Glenn made his first voyage into space.

“I remember they brought the entire school into the gym and we all watched the flight on a 12-inch black-and-white TV, and here we are all these years later,” Percival said. “It’s extraordinary.”

Percival walked from her hotel to watch Discovery as it passed behind the U.S. Capitol. “I had tears in my eyes and goose bumps,” she said. “I never dreamed I would see a sight like that.”
Like giant steel Russian dolls stacked one atop the other, the 175,000-pound shuttle balanced on three struts sticking out from atop the shuttle carrier aircraft, a four-engine, intercontinental-range jumbo jet used to transport NASA spacecraft. Before takeoff, the two crafts were joined by a crane and scaffolding that hoisted the shuttle in the air, allowing its escort plane to taxi into position underneath.

“Discovery has done the full scope of human spaceflight,” said Isabel Lara, a spokeswoman for the National Air and Space Museum. “It has had every type of mission, so it fully represents what the space shuttle program accomplished.”

In 1990, Discovery deployed the Hubble telescope and played an integral role in the International Space Station’s development. The first Americans to return to space after the Challenger and Columbia disasters flew on the wings of Discovery. On March 9, 2011, the shuttle completed its 39th and final mission. It’s the first of the three active shuttles to be retired by NASA.

“The shuttle is easily the most sophisticated flying machine ever devised, and anybody who sees the flyover of Discovery is seeing a very, very historic spacecraft,” said Pat Duggins, the author of “Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program.”
NASA will officially hand over the shuttle to the Smithsonian during a ceremony Thursday at Discovery’s new home.

Glenn and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden are among the scheduled speakers.
“It is an icon and it will join its colleagues — the Apollo command module, the Wright Flyer and the Concord — in the museum’s collection,” Lara said.
The Smithsonian will celebrate its new acquisition with four days of special events, including film viewings, performances and appearances by Discovery crew members.
As the shuttle program retires, NASA is at work designing and building “the most powerful rocket ever that will take Americans deeper and farther into space than ever before,” said Michael Curie, a spokesman for NASA.

“With the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, the orbiters are being placed in museums, where generations of Americans will be able to learn and draw inspiration from them,” Curie said. “This now allows NASA to turn the page and look to the future, where human spaceflight will once again focus on exploration.”

Read more here:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Discovery's last flight ...

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) – You almost want to rub your eyes when you first see it. It doesn’t seem real. It doesn’t belong there. But there it is, the space shuttle Discovery mounted on top of a specially modified Boeing 747 airplane.

At first light Tuesday, Discovery flew out from the Kennedy Space Center one last time. In a salute to the past and all those who were part of the shuttle program, the aircraft flew over launchpad A, down the beach and over the space center visitor complex before heading north.

Discovery’s next stop will be its last. The oldest of the three orbiters, with more than 148 million miles clocked, is going to the Smithsonian in Washington.

“Bittersweet,” said Discovery’s last commander, Steve Lindsey, “is an overused word, but it is sad.” Lindsey and the five others who flew last February on mission 133 came out to say goodbye.
With every step toward retirement, the shuttle fleet becomes more a part of history. In 30 years of flying there were grand accomplishments and heart-wrenching tragedies. A space flying machine with wings, it was like nothing ever built.

But dwelling in that past would be a mistake, Lindsey said.
“We’ve got to move on, we’ve got to make sure that spaceflight doesn’t die in this nation,” he said. “We still have (the) space station going, but if we don’t get ourselves heavy lift, get going with exploration or part of what I’m working on — the commercial program — then we risk losing this as a nation, and I don’t want to do that.”

In some ways, the past is meeting the future here. Just a few miles to the south at Cape Canaveral, Space X is in its final preparations to launch its Dragon spacecraft. It is a hugely critical test scheduled for the end of April. Space X hopes to be the first commercial company to rendezvous and then berth with the international space station.

Next year Space X plans to start ferrying cargo to the station and, in four years, U.S. astronauts.
Alvin Drew, a mission specialist on Discovery, said these companies vying to pick up where the shuttle left off are taking a leap of faith.

“These guys who run the commercial companies will tell you with the money they could have been there in 2015 if the money was there,” Drew said. “You tie yourself to government funding, you are making a tough deal, because there’s no guarantee the succeeding administrations or congresses are going to continue your funding.”

Commercial companies say their new vehicles will be many times safer than the shuttles. It has to be that way now, Drew said.

“We had bigger budgets and a bigger tolerance for failure and loss of life back in the ’60s and early ’70s than we have in this particular generation,” Drew said. “So the shuttle was built for that generation of explorers and I’m not sure it fit well in our current society or current culture. The risks you would take for the shuttle I think are higher than most people are willing to accept in 2012.”
When Discovery gets to Washington, it will replace Enterprise, which now sits in the Smithsonian. Enterprise, a test shuttle that never flew in space, will go to New York and eventually into its new home at the Intrepid Museum.

The shuttle Endeavour will, by the end of the year, be heading to the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Atlantis will take up permanent residence at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. That will be the final exclamation point to the end of an era of space exploration.

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