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Stirring Photos Chronicle the Final Years of the Space Shuttle Program
A wise photo editor once said that sometimes the most interesting photos don’t happen at the football game. They happen in the parking lot. It’s easy to get caught up in the action and forget that everything surrounding the action can be just as revealing.
Case in point is Philip Scott Andrews’ ongoing photo series Last Days, which documents the end of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. For three years Andrews has had unprecedented access to the Kennedy Space Center, and he’s made good use of it by capturing a side of this facility the public is not used to seeing.
“A lot of people when they hear NASA they think about guys in white lab coats,” Andrews says. “The astronauts are fascinating, but there are only a couple of them, and then there are thousands of workers who are making this possible.”
The historic program, officially titled the Space Transportation System (STS), performed its last launch, the Atlantis shuttle, on July 8, 2011. The program’s vehicles, the only winged aircraft to ever enter orbit and return for multiple uses, are now being decommissioned and placed in museums for future generations to experience.
It seems appropriate to capture the passing of this iconic era of human scientific achievement in Andrews’ grainy black and white, a choice he made explicitly for its timeless quality. Andrews’ dad was a photography consultant for the aerospace industry and, like many people from his generation, was profoundly moved by the achievements of NASA.
“The Space Shuttle has a lot of symbolism for what this country used to be and for what we were able to produce in-house,” he says. “I wanted this to be my love song to the space age, if that’s not too cheesy to say.”
Instead of perseverating on the few remaining launches, Andrews wanted to reacquaint the U.S. with the scope of its achievement by turning his camera toward the program’s more everyday moments and characters.
“A big problem with the Space Shuttle was that it became too consistent,” he says. “The American people stopped seeing it as a difficult task. They made it so ordinary that it lost its sense of adventure.”
By forcing people to re-see all that goes into maintaining and launching a shuttle, Andrews helps get at the heart of something that truly changed the country as we know it. Something he thinks we need to achieve again today.
“I think that projects like [the space program] make us a better country,” Andrews says. “Whether it’s going to the moon or achieving energy independence, these projects always lead to research and discoveries that we can’t even estimate now.”
Hats off, Andrew. Beautiful as always.