Last Shift

STS-135 Flight Director Paul Dye (light blue shirt standing in back row) talks to his flight controller crew at the end of the last shift.

The last Space Shuttle shift for the Iron Team was the night before entry of STS-135. The crew would wake up and go straight into the Deorbit Prep checklist, and all changes to that (and the Entry checklist) had been completed the day before. That meant that there really wasn’t any planning to do, and we were just watching over the Atlantis’ systems and making sure everything was set for the final landing of the program. It was a quiet time, with a chance to reflect on the more than three decades of Shuttle flights. My team was great – young, eager, and ready for anything – yet they weren’t going to get the chance to fly this vehicle countless times again, like I had.

At some point in the shift (I frankly wanted to stay awake and alert), just sitting there wasn’t doing it – so I walked around the front of the console and started chatting with the controllers in the row ahead. I was probably spinning yarns about the good old days in the old control center, and what it was like “in the day”….back when you had to use a MEDS terminal to upload changes to the Mission Operations Computer and the way to get things to and from your back room was via the pneumatic tube system. Sending text to the Shuttle was tedious – there was this old teleprinter, and every digital bit was precious, so we’d spend hours reviewing each message to say exactly what we need to say with no extra. The young flight controllers (many of whom had not been born until well after the first shuttle flights) seemed fascinated – or they were just full of coffee, trying to stay awake themselves.

Before I knew it, I looked up, and realized that pretty much the entire team had wandered over to hear “the old man” pontificate about those days, and it morphed into a general discussion about life in the space business. I don’t recall all of the things we talked about, but I do remember that Public Affairs Officer told me later that she had described the spontaneous gathering as a chance for “Iron Flight to bond one last time with his team.” It really was special, and I cherish the memory. I didn’t remember until I found these pictures that anyone had a camera.

As the entry team came on console, we did our normal handover – a ritual we had all repeated hundreds of times – and when it came time to release my folks, I pulled out a few notes I had made to help me remember what I wanted to say. I found those notes in the same folder as this picture, and thought I’d share them here – with a little editing to make them readable. I remember that it was hard to get through them without choking up, and I had the same feelings reading through them again.  It was a great team, a great time, and a great bird.


Well Folks,

What can we say? For me, it has been over 30 years since I first walked through the doors of Mission Control as a Coop Student hired by what was then FOD. It was six months before STS-1, and I busied myself absorbing everything that I could find about the amazing machine that they were getting ready to fly.

The first shift of the “Iron Team” manned up for STS-63, 14 years later. I thought it took a long time to be selected and become a Flight Director – but we have flown more missions since then than we did before that time, so I guess that puts my time in this chair as spanning more than half the flight program of this vehicle.

The Shuttle Program has been a GREAT RIDE. Anyone that knows me knows that I live for flight….and no winged, crewed vehicle flies higher, faster, and farther than the Space Shuttle. NOTHING! For an aviator, it simply doesn’t get any better.

And so we have come to the end of our last Shuttle shift. In a few weeks, I – and many of you – will put the headset back on at an ISS console and keep on doing what we have always done – and doing it superbly. Others……will take a different path.

We few, we chosen few that have been blessed to walk these halls and fly these missions, we like to be in control. And right now, it might seem like events are beyond that which we can affect. But friends….take heart – you DO have control.

Anyone who has accomplished what you have accomplished, seen the things you have seen, been where you have been….CAN control their own destiny!

Celebrate the successes that we have had, revel in the moment – think about what you have accomplished – and CARRY ON!!

Shakespeare wrote that “Brevity is the Soul of Wit”, and by that measure, I am not very witty. But I do know something about the Soul.

….and the soul of this amazing flying machine, this amazing program, resides within each of us. Within each of you. Carry it forward to new fields and new adventures. Spread the seed of what you have learned, and what you have done. Grow the future of humankind with your works and deeds from this day on.

Boldly Go.

Thank you for all you have done, and for all you have been. The Iron Team has had many members, and will, in truth have a few more – in a different venue. When I think back on all of the Flight Controllers that I have learned from, worked with, laughed with – and cried with….the names and faces might have changed, but the soul endures. It is the same now, as it was 30 years ago. All I can say is…..

Thank You. You have done way more than your duty.

When the Entry Team is ready to take the stick, ya’ll drive safe –

And for the final time – you are released.

STS 135 Mission Logo

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