It felt like going back in time. It was a Sunday in March, 1979. Everyone who lived in Brevard County, Florida, knew to head to the beach that day. At the appointed time, a huge 747 flew low & slow along the beach, with Shuttle Columbia on her back. Columbia would be the very first orbiter launched into space from the Kennedy space center, a few miles north of us.
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We all cheered & whooped. So many moms & dads either worked for NASA or a NASA contractor. Our public schools had names like Gemini, Astronaut, Satellite. We couldn’t have had more pride in our work or our country.
First fun fact: many kids & plenty of adults had never seen a 747 in person! The plane had been in service less than 10 years if memory serves. And we were not yet in the era of “anyone can fly.” The term “jet set” still meant “really rich.” So to see that beast so low, with the giant shuttle on her back struck us even harder. We’d all grown up with rockets. And yes, the Saturn Vwas much bigger. But the Saturn V did not float by at such a low altitude, saying a friendly hello! It just rattled our houses from 30 miles away at lift off.
Second fun fact: Brevard County was awarded America’s only “Vanity Area Code.” Our numbers there all start with (321).
So I couldn’t believe I found myself so lucky to stand near the foot of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, waiting for a fly-by of Shuttle Endeavor. The morning yesterday was cool. It was also a little hazy, which isn’t great for photos. But honestly, the photos were secondary.
I’d planned to get there really early, like 5 or 6 am to get a parking spot. My wife verbally patted me on the head, and reminded me that I could probably find a spot within an hour of the event. “Not everyone is as into it as you are.” She was right. I have been deflated a few times, reminding groups I was with of an interesting launch or other event that day, only to wilt at their looks of “um, I have to trim my nails around then.”
But not yesterday: the enthusiasm and pride was everywhere, at every age. New friends got to know each other during the minutes of anticipation. Kenneth, on the left, ran all the way down from some place in Marin. Nate & Andrea arrived early, armed with lawn chairs. They reminded me of folks back home near Cape Canaveral who’d make a morning or an evening of it. Andrea took this photo of the three guys there on the bluff near the Warming Hut.
Back in the regular old rocket days, it was good to stand near the guy with the AM radio, so you knew what the heck was going on. This time, it was good to sit near Andrea, who was keeping track of the Shuttle on Twitter, and getting news from her sister in Sacramento. Sister Sac put us on the alert. Sure enough, minutes later, someone (I think Kenneth) spotted the three planes! NASA flew chase with what looked like an old F-15 Eagle. The “bomb” under it is probably extra fuel. I don’t think those planes fly very efficiently at low speed.
I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them. This could be the end of U.S. manned space flight. But it was a hell of a ride.
Edie hoffman says
Absolutely spectacular pictures! Love the one with the bridge!
Besides your lovely photos (my fave is the last one), I really enjoyed your backstory. I could almost see the 747/Columbia flying along the beach. I bet you took a photo of it — now lost in some old scrapbook!
Jan Bohuslav says
Great story and shots!
j. horton says
Notice the vertical stabilizers on the rear wings. They are not on a regular 747-400. Must be because of the exptra weight on top.
Those are great shot, thanks
priscilla Dolan says
Hi Josh-Just had a chance to look at the shuttle shots. They’re terrific. What a good vantage point at the bridge! Just before we left for the summer ,NASA announced the shuttle going to NYC was going to do a fly by over the beaches as far as Satellite beach. A neighbor and I raced to our beach near the house only to see very low lying clouds. It seemed like we would see nothing. Suddenly a bright light appeared coming thru the clouds. Instead of turning at Satellite Beach it kept coming south. We were yelling, “Keep coming. Keep coming!” And in a beautiful, spectacular , move it turned right in front of us and was off to NY. Know how you must have felt-this was a part of our history. Priscilla
Rex Wang says
Amazing shots, Josh!