Space Shuttle Endeavour Exclusive: A Timelapse of the Final Ride
Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford did not give a thought to a 12-year-old photographer named Scott Andrews in the early morning hours of June 3, 1966. The two astronauts had just strapped themselves into the cockpit of their Gemini 9 spacecraft — a tiny pod into which they were crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, nose-to-instrument panel, atop 109 ft. of Titan missile. Sometime that morning, massive tanks of aerozene 50 and nitrogen tetroxide would mix and explode in the belly of the Titan, producing an eruptive thrust of 430,000 lbs. and hurling the men into orbit. Two launch attempts had been scrubbed already, and for this third one, the back-up astronauts — Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin — had left a teasing little note in the cockpit: “We were kidding before, but not anymore, get your…uh…selves into space, or we’ll take your place.”
Cernan and Stafford did get into space that day, and when their Titan lit, at 6:38 AM ET, Andrews was there, watching his first-ever manned launch, snapping and snapping and snapping away. He came back for Gemini 10 as well, and then 11, and then 12, and nearly all of the Apollos, and Skylabs and shuttle missions that followed. By college, he was photographing the launches professionally. The only three manned liftoffs he missed in his long career were two of the 135 shuttle launches and that of the ill-fated Apollo 13 — a break both in his own streak and the Apollo program’s run of luck. “[Flight director] Chris Kraft later told me that he wished he’d flown me down there himself,” says Andrews, now 58.
There are no manned American flights for Andrews to shoot these days, of course. The final shuttle flew in 2011 and NASA has no coherent timeline for putting humans back in space — or even a coherent idea of where it wants to send them when it does. The shuttles are now little more than museum pieces: Enterprise sits on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid in New York’s Hudson River; Discovery is on display at the Smithsonian Institution; Endeavour is at the California Science Center (CSC) in Los Angeles; and Atlantis is now preparing for its unveiling at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.