On eve of Endeavour's last launch, "Shuttle Ennui" (Xeni on The Madeleine Brand show)

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Download audio (MP3), or listen to the show here.


I joined The Madeleine Brand Show on the radio today for a chat around what some jokingly refer to as "shuttle ennui," felt by many at NASA (and others whose livelihoods depend on NASA) as the space shuttle program ends.

We so often think of things as large as America's space program as abstractions, and for good reason. Billions of dollars, thousands of people, huge human-made machines that shoot fire and climb toward the stars. But NASA is made of people. And along with all of the NASA employees and contractors whose work relates to the shuttle program, everyone from the Cape Canaveral donut shop owner to the journalists who cover space are affected by the program's end. Right now, to put it simply: everyone's bummin'.

Today, the countdown began for the final launch of shuttle Endeavour, scheduled to lift off Monday morning 8:56:26 a.m. EDT. She'll head to the International Space Station to deliver an array of supplies, including spare parts for the robot DEXTRE ("The Canada Hand"). This will be the 36th shuttle mission to the ISS, STS-134. Last month's launch attempt was scrubbed when problems were discovered in fuel line heaters. One more shuttle launch is scheduled for June, the STS-135 mission with shuttle Atlantis. But that's it: the end of the shuttle era—and the end of tens of thousands of skilled American technology workers' jobs.

I've spent much of the last few weeks wandering around Kennedy Space Center and Johnson Space Center, with Miles O'Brien and the SpaceFlightNow crew, talking to people about how the end of the program impacts their lives. Along the way, I met a number of Boing Boing fans at NASA, and contractors and space nerds who are part of our greater family of happy mutants. Hear more about what I observed in the radio segment.

Do tune in to SpaceFlightNow for Monday's launch webcast with Miles O'Brien, David Waters and astronaut Leroy Chiao. It really is the best launch coverage there is.

Space fans may also enjoy tuning in to SomaFM's "Mission Control," NASA audio plus trippy ambient electronica, live Monday from JSC. A fun related post from them here.

Related: Flickr galleries of iPhone snapshots I shot on my recent space adventures. KSC (Florida), and JSC (Texas). Above and below, a few of those pix: Shuttle patches behind the counter, at the cigar store where reporters covering launches (including Miles) buy stogies for liftoff luck; a door at nearby Merritt Island airport; the Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, at KSC; and an obligatory spaceman smooch I snuck at JSC.

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(All images: Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) snapshots from Xeni's photostream)