Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Enterprise visits Stansted

One of the most exciting assignments I was ever given as a young local newspaper reporter back in the early 1980s was to cover the visit to Stansted airport of the Space Shuttle Enterprise, riding piggyback on its 747 carrier aircraft.

It was in the early days of the Space Shuttle programme and NASA had flown Enterprise round Europe as a PR stunt, accompanied by the commander of the first ever flight John Young who, with Bob Crippen, had flown the orbiter’s maiden voyage on 12 April 1981.

The stop-off on a Sunday afternoon at Stansted airport north of London attracted thousands of people eager like myself to catch a glimpse of the new spaceship.

Strictly speaking it was not ‘local’ news for the Lincolnshire Free Press/Spalding Guardian weekly newspapers - but my Editor David Young knew it would attract many visitors from our area and was astute enough not to curb a young hack’s enthusiasm.

As a newly qualified reporter with a mainstay diet of local courts, councils and police work I could hardly of dreamed that the 80 mile trip to Stansted would sow the seeds for a career that would one day take me to many of the iconic space centres of the world, including Kennedy Space Center (KSC) itself to witness the countdown and launch of Space Shuttles.

The piece I wrote for the Lincolnshire Free Press — in those days a traditional broadsheet paper owned by East Midlands Allied Press (EMAP) — reflected the optimism surrounding the fledgling Shuttle programme.

Dr Hans Mark, deputy director of NASA at the time, predicted that by the mid-1990s there would be almost one Shuttle mission per week and that before the end of the century several thousand people would have flown in space.

Of course, in the end things didn’t quite turn out quite as he and many others had predicted.

So, some 28 years later, after collecting my press badges and passing through security on a sultry July morning, I find myself driving up the long approach road to NASA’s KSC.

The giant Vehicle Assembly Building dominates the view ahead and round the corner somewhere a Space Shuttle stands on launch pad 39A ready to make history.

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