The Final Frontier

Lifting off with space shuttle Endeavour

In the 30 years between the first launch, of Columbia in 1981, and the last, of Atlantis in 2011, the space shuttle program accomplished much. It ferried critical research tools such as the Hubble Space Telescope while helping make the International Space Station a reality. But it also suffered tragedies: the loss of 14 lives and two ships, Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. Last year photographer Dan Winters, who built every Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo model he could find as a child, shot the final takeoffs of Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis for his new book, Last Launch (University of Texas Press). With Endeavour becoming a permanent resident of the California Science Center in Exposition Park, we thought Angelenos should see how this product of Palmdale could really fly.

    • May 15, T-Minus 19 HRS 46 mins

      “I shot this the day before… they had rolled the tower back early, which was a real treat…”

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      May 16, T-Plus 1.2 secs

      “The atmospheric conditions the day of the launch were incredibly dramatic… almost ominous…”

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      May 16, T-Plus 7.9 secs

      “Once the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters fire, that’s it… they call it lighting the candle…”

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      May 16, T-Plus 12.3 secs

      “The cloud ceiling was so low that Endeavor was only visible for 20 seconds… if you went to…”

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      May 16, T-Plus 22 secs

      “…see the spectacle, you probably felt gypped… the giant smoke column dissipates slowly…”

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      May 16, T-Plus 5 mins 32 secs

      “I shot a lot of that because it’s so beautiful… hours later I went to get my remote cameras…”

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    May 16, T-Plus 3 hrs 11 mins

    “…I matched the first shot…the empty pad always looks lonely… it’s served its purpose”

ALSO: Read Rocket Man, a Q&A with Dan Winters about how he photographed the Endeavour

Photographs by Dan Winters