Thursday, May 27, 2010

Her Last Voyage

Space shuttle Atlantis touched down for the last time yesterday at Cape Canaveral:

Hers is an inspiring record; this account of her last launch shows her capacity to inspire, and to embody man's best aspirations: ad astra per aspera!

Of all the records of Atlantis' last voyage, however, this one I believe is the most memorable, and the most inspiring (click on the image to enlarge, then click again):

What you are seeing is a truly remarkable photograph by astronomy blogger Thierry Legault (H/T: Bad Astronomy blog, whose author Phil Plait's comment on this picture is:




For those who have never been to/lived in Hawaii, "Haleakala" is the name given to Maui's extinct (?) volcano, from whose 10,000-foot summit it is traditional -- and inspiring -- to watch the sunrise. The Hawaiian word means "house (hale) of the sun.")

To make this picture, planned well in advance, Thierry Legault had to travel to Madrid, where he would be at just the right angle to the space station and Atlantis as they made their transit of the disk of the sun, at just the right instant. (The entire transit lasted all of one-and-a-half seconds.)

When you double-click to enlarge the picture to its full resolution, you will see the silhouette of Atlantis to the left of the silhouette of the international space station, framed against the backdrop of the sun's disk. (As Plait explains, "Mind you, Atlantis had just started its pitch maneuver, designed to show its belly to the crew on the ISS so they can inspect it for heat tile damage. That means this image was taken shortly before the Orbiter docked with the station, on May 16th.")

Simply beautiful.

Simply awe-inspiring.

(Believe me, we could all use some of that just now.)

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