"Last Days: Final Flights of the Space Shuttle"
After nearly 30 years of flight, NASA's Space Shuttle Program is scheduled to end later this year. With no plan for a new space vehicle of their own, this means the end of a national manned spaceflight program in the United States. Neil Armstrong, in an open letter to President Barak Obama called the plan "devastating."
For the past six months I have been photographing the end of the Space Shuttle Program in and around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In the coming months, I hope to photograph the impact of this planned discontinuation on a number of locations throughout the country. This grant would aid me in continuing and expanding my work on the subject.
I have established the relationships and credentials necessary to work inside this tightly controlled and highly secured government facility and have been granted access to photograph in areas usually restricted from members of the media and general public. I have been invited to photograph space shuttle processing in areas of the space center usually closed to all but a few eyes.
Over the next year, I will continue to work on this project, building it into four major divisions; the practical task of successfully launching a space shuttle, the training and lifestyles of a few astronauts, the decommissioning of the shuttle and the fallout the end of the program will have on Florida's Space Coast.
Some of what I hope to capture will not occur until the program has ended. Right now though, the everyday job of manned space flight is in full swing. One shuttle, Atlantis, just returned home from nearly two weeks in space and the two others are being processed for flight by technicians around the clock. Many of these workers have built their careers around working on the space shuttle and most of them will be out of a job at the conclusion of the program. As part of this project I will document these workers as they process the shuttle, along with the launch and landing of shuttle missions.
I will also travel to Houston, Texas, home of the United States' Astronaut Corps. Astronauts train in a variety of ways at Johnson Space Center in Houston, including in a 6.2 million gallon pool. The pool, dubbed the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, simulates a weightless environment. I have secured access to photograph here, as well as in flight simulators and other training facilities. While there, I will also spend time documenting the lives of a few Astronauts at home, outside of their jobs.
Twenty institutions across the country are currently vying to house one of the three remaining orbiters; Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour, including the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City and the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. After the conclusion of manned launches, I will begin to document the decommissioning of the orbiters and their delivery and installation to the three yet to be determined museums. This process will be truly unique as an iconic American object transitions from tool to museum artifact.
The most important impact the end of the shuttle program will have is on the residents of the Space Coast. Much like the coal mining areas of Appalachia and rust belt manufacturing cities, this is a company town. Last year around 15,000 people worked at Kennedy Space Center. It is likely that not many of those jobs will last. Some estimate that for every one person working at the center, seven are employed in local supporting industries. Florida Today, the local newspaper, estimates that the jobs lost after the shuttle program ends could be as high as 50,000 in the region. The space shuttle is ubiquitous in the area. Images of the shuttle can be found everywhere, in hotel lobbies, adorning restaurant walls and on car license plates. I will spend time along the Space Coast, documenting the local economy and how it may transform after the shuttles are sent to museums, and the people who worked on them are sent home. It is impossible to know what will happen here, but similar examples are all too common across the country. One need not look further than cities like Flint or Detroit to see what happens when a town's majority employer packs up and leaves.
Manned spaceflight has symbolized American ingenuity, persistence and wealth for nearly half a century. Under NASA's current schedule, it will be over by December of this year. This will have profound impacts on the everyday lives of thousands of Americans and close a chapter in American history. This grant would help me to continue my work on a subject I am very passionate about, and will help show other what will be lost at the end of this space program.
This image: Work lights stream into Florida's night sky moments before the February launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.