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"We’ve all known it’s coming, but still until you actually get there, you really don’t understand how you’re going to feel," said Stilson, who will be moving on to a job at NASA headquarters in Washington.
For her, the tears didn’t flow until the last leg of Endeavour’s cross-country flight to Los Angeles in September. Then, "I was bawling like a baby."
Bakehorn, in fact, is skipping Friday’s big Atlantis event, which is drawing NASA brass as well as members of the public paying up to $90 apiece.
"I’ve said my goodbyes. You can only do it only so many times," he said Thursday.
Earlier this week, the two NASA astronauts aboard the space station, Sunita Williams and Kevin Ford, thanked the remaining shuttle workers for their contribution. They also offered reassurance.
"We wouldn’t be here on the International Space Station if it wasn’t for the successful work of the space shuttles bringing all these modules up here," Williams told The Associated Press. "I’m sure there are many places that their talents would be wanted and desired."
To make it clear that Kennedy isn’t shutting down, NASA held a pair of news conferences on the eve of Atlantis’ move to talk up the growing commercial side of the space program and the future of human exploration.
Just this past Sunday, an unmanned SpaceX Dragon capsule returned science samples and equipment from the space station after dropping off cargo. The Dragon rocketed into orbit Oct. 7 from the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The California-based company hopes to provide ferry rides for astronauts in a few years and create more SpaceX jobs at Cape Canaveral.
But that’s in the future. Those about to lose their jobs are more focused on the here and now. They realize that they likely will have to settle for less satisfying work and lower pay.
Walsh doesn’t hold out much hope.
"I’m old. Too old. I’m 65," he said with a sigh. "I’m not ready to retire, but it looks like I’ll have to."
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