With two sonic booms as it descended into Cape Canaveral, a space shuttle landed at the Kennedy Space Center for the very first time 34 years ago.
On Feb. 11, 1984, Challenge crossed over Tampa Bay toward Florida's Space Coast, where spectators waited and watched to see the 100-ton shuttle return to Earth.
The shuttle landed on a 15,000-foot runway, just a few miles from where the flight began eight days prior. The event marked the first-ever shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center and the first time a shuttle had ever returned to the same location where it had launched. Previous shuttle missions had landed out west.
Craig MacDougal, with the MARS Astronomy Club at MOSI, has loved space since he was a kid. He fondly remembers following the Apollo missions.
"And then the later missions when they had that rover and you could get live views of them exploring," he recalled. "Every time I was glued to the TV."
It's one of the many milestones now stored as memories for the self-proclaimed "astronomy nerd," before the likes of Bill Gates and Elon Musk made it fashionable, he noted with a smile.
MacDougal remembers the '84 Challenger landing at Kennedy Space Center, making the end of a mission that produced one of NASA's most iconic images.
"That was the mission that Bruce McCandless was on," MacDougal said. "The first untethered spacewalk and that is that picture you always see.”
While the last shuttle launch in 2011 brought a lull to Florida's space economy, MacDougal says the recent resurgence in extraterrestrial exploration—like the successful Space X launch last week—has him psyched for the stellar possibilities ahead.
"That’s just one of those ‘well that’s just flat cool,'" he said with a chuckle.
“Without that kind of stuff going on, you’re not going to be able to inspire kids."
This historic Challenger landing in 1984 was tragically followed up just two years later by the disaster when the shuttle broke apart after take-off.
But more than six dozen successful launches followed.
As for future launches on Florida's Space Coast, Space X is said to be planning a test launch of crew capsules this summer.
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