GREENBELT, Md. (WJZ) — One last leap into space. Friday’s final shuttle launch means one hard goodbye for a lot of Marylanders.  They’re the scientists and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

Alex DeMetrick explains the final lift-off ends a 30-year relationship.

While four astronauts settled into the Space Shuttle Atlantis, hundreds of NASA employees at the Goddard Space Flight Center settled in to watch.

Mike Weiss has spent three decades filling shuttle cargo bays with hardware and experiments.

“It’s a bittersweet end. You know, we’ve got a rich, rich history here at Goddard with the shuttle program.  We flew payloads on 75 percent of the shuttle flights,” said Weiss, NASA engineer.

The 135th shuttle flight will be the last.  Following a brief delay after a last-minute glitch, there was take-off.

“It really demonstrated what this country can do when you apply the best of everything we had: the people, the hardware, the engineers, the scientists,” said Weiss.

But Atlantis climbed on something more than that Friday. It flew on emotion.

“I’m one of the many scientists at Goddard that really doesn’t remember the Apollo program, so for me the shuttle was a huge inspiration to become a scientist,” said Michelle Thaller, NASA scientist.

But while it may be sad to see it climb away, there is also understanding why it’s time for the shuttle to leave.

“It’s just the end of a wonderful era in space flight, but we had to stop it because it’s old technology, and we want to make sure that people are safe,” said David Obler, NASA engineer.

Despite the tragic loss of two shuttles and their crews, there are good memories.

“What an amazing 30-year journey for us all,” said Thaller.

For awhile, it will be up to Russia to man and supply the International Space Station, while private industry develops a U.S. transport system.


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