A shuttle of dreams, hopes and possibilities

The final U.S. space shuttle launched Friday morning from Cape Canaveral, Fla. and the world (or at least Twitter) was watching. Since many of us at GigaOM have some special shuttle memories to share we gathered a few of them and invite y’all to provide some in the comments below. Join us in saying goodbye to a program that inspired people, innovations and dreams.

I happened to be in Orlando in February 2010, the night of the final nighttime shuttle launch. Despite having to be at the airport at 7 a.m., the classmate with whom I was traveling and I rented a car and headed to Cape Canaveral around 11 p.m. We endured lack of sleep, spring-break-like throngs of people and Southerners talking about secession, only to have the launch scrubbed at the last-minute. Fueled by disappointment and gas station coffee, I made the wee-hours drive back to Orlando International Airport. —Derrick Harris

The Columbia shuttle and its mission patches

Long before social networking, I remember how “personal” the Space Shuttle program was. As a youngster, after each mission, I would hand-write a letter to the crew, include a small check from father and send it to Johnson Space Center. Without fail, I’d receive the mission patch worn by the crew as well as an autographed glossy photo of the entire crew. I still have these from the first few dozen missions; my little personalized piece of STS history. —Kevin C. Tofel

I helped cover the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003 for Yomiuri Shimbun, a big Japanese newspaper – Columbia disintegrated over Texas when it was returning. It was my first assignment for them. I knew and know nothing about shuttles. My boss went down to the area to talk to people where pieces of the shuttle had fallen. Since my other major memory of the shuttle launches is the Challenger explosion, I don’t have a very good impression of the safety of these things. —Katie Fehrenbacher

A wreath in honor of the Challenger crew

I just remember being in sixth grade when the Challenger shuttle accident happened. Our class was able to get access to a TV in the library so we marched over there and watched the shuttle lift off. It was exciting in a sci-fi kind of way for a kid who grew up on Star Wars. And then a little more than a minute in, disaster struck. I remember seeing the explosion and not really understanding what was going on. This was clearly not supposed to happen, but being kids, we didn’t know how to process it. A sensitive teacher rushed over to the TV and turned it off. We filed back to our class trying to understand what happened. It made me realize how new and risky space flight was. I just assumed it was what you did on the way to a Star Wars reality. I never contemplated how dangerous it was to get there. —Ryan Kim

Who can forget the Challenger explosion? I was eight years old at the time and for my elementary school, it was a big deal. Since there was a school teacher on board the shuttle, all classes in my school were watching live as it happened. As soon as the explosion took place, it felt like the whole school went into shock, as teachers and the administration dealt with the fallout. An assembly was called and the nurse, school counselor, etc., were all on alert for the next few days as the kids tried to process what happened. —Ryan Lawler

Today's Atlantis launch

Space travel always seemed so out of reach — big rockets shooting up into the air — until the space shuttle came along. Those airplane-like landings blew my mind, with the astronauts just walking out and waving hello. It made space travel seem so possible. I remember designing a space station for a school project — not that that was the assignment. I just loved the idea of people living, even for a short time, in space. —Nicole Solis

I first realized there was a shuttle program leading up to the Challenger mission, but instead of being traumatized by the accident, I was hooked. I got a telescope for Christmas that year and tried to save up enough money to go to Space Camp. I didn’t make it, but when I was 11, I did win a trip to NASA and Mission Control. I got to join a complete simulation as the navigator of the shuttle… which I promptly crashed into the moon. —Stacey Higginbotham

I remember covering the Return to Flight (STS-114) from the Kennedy Space Center, and being amazed at the sheer magnitude of what the space shuttle represented — from the massive docking bay (which still had tiles missing due to Hurricane Wilma) to the fact that the shuttle set off car alarms five miles away when it launched. But mostly I remember sitting with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield after the launch was postponed, and hearing some great inside stories about the shuttle and his flight — like the fact that Mission Control played one of his favorite country songs as the shuttle passed over Canada. His stories really brought home to me how even this vast, multibillion-dollar project still came down to the human beings involved in it — some of whom paid with their lives so that we could reach into space. —Mathew Ingram

Kalpana Chawla

My most vivid memory of the Shuttle program is the day Kalpana Chawla, one of the only people of Indian origin chosen to fly in the Shuttle, flew. It made me as an immigrant realize that anything was possible. I was struggling to make a go of it in the U.S. and that gave me hope. I refuse to think of what happened later mostly because to me the Shuttle program was not as much about scientific achievements and new frontiers, but instead it was about possibilities and what could be possible. —Om Malik

Growing up, the Shuttle program was responsible for some of the most fun lessons I had in school. From a kid’s perspective, learning about U.S. astronauts’ trips to space had so many awesome bases covered: Customized and collectible patches for each mission, repulsive freeze-dried space food, and of course zero-gravity bathroom-related humor. I wonder if kids will still learn in school about all of that once the Shuttle program is no more. —Colleen Taylor

Check out the video if you need help remembering some of the highlights of NASA’s 30-year shuttle program.

A Blast From The Past: Shuttle Through The Decades from NPR on Vimeo.

Images courtesy of NASA.