CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - It takes getting up-close to appreciate what a magnificent machine the Space Shuttle is.
Local 6's Erik von Ancken was given unprecedented access Wednesday to space shuttle Atlantis, currently housed in Orbiter Processing Facility 2 at the Kennedy Space Center. Atlantis is being readied to roll over to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex next month where it will go on display next summer.
Inside Atlantis, Local 6 toured the flight-deck and the mid-deck directly below. Outside, von Ancken got to add his name to the hallowed halls of the entryway leading to the crew hatch, where thousands of signatures have been left by shuttle crew members, shuttle workers, dignitaries and celebrities.
"These names mean to me the people that have sweat, bled, and given their heart for this program," said Buddy McKenzie, crew module manager.
McKenzie is one of roughly 10,000 shuttle workers who maintained and upgraded the shuttles throughout the 30-year history of the program. He expects his position to be eliminated next year.
"Probably getting laid off is easier than retirement or finding another job, but the whole thing is its been great," said McKenzie.
"I believe the American people are now realizing what she did for our space program," said Mike Williams, thermal protection systems technician. For 34 years, Williams installed, inspected, and replaced the shuttle's protective thermal tiles. He hopes to transition to another program continuing his tile work, but at 50 years old, acknowledges he may be replaced by younger workers.
"Of course we're all depressed that this is ending. There is nothing to replace this workhorse," said Williams, referring to the enormous capabilities of the space shuttle.
Atlantis has logged more than 126,000,000 miles since its first flight in 1985.
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