A Journey of 4.5 Million Miles Began with 120 Feet

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
-Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, 6th-5th c. BC

Or, a journey of more than 4.5 million miles through space in 2002 began with a flight of 120 feet on the dunes of North Carolina in 1903.

On April 8, 2002, at 4:44 p.m., the U.S. Space Shuttle Atlantis was launched from Pad 39B of Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The trip lasted almost 11 days, nearly 8 of which were spent docked at the International Space Station. After making 171 Earth orbits and covering a distance of 4,525,299 miles, Atlantis landed back in Florida on April 19, 2002, at 12:37 p.m.

Few would argue that every flight — into space or otherwise — owes in part to the first successful flight and to the contributions of the Wright Brothers. So what was so special about this particular shuttle flight?

When Atlantis launched on April 8, 2002, in addition to 7 crew members and some important new equipment for the ISS, it carried one of our original Wright Brothers’ First Flight photographic prints.

This copy of the First Flight photograph (ms1_16-2-6) traveled to the International Space Station aboard the Shuttle Atlantis in April 2002.

This copy of the First Flight photograph (ms1_16-2-6) traveled to the International Space Station aboard the Shuttle Atlantis in April 2002.

As described in last year’s First Flight anniversary post, while “the First Flight photo” refers to a single moment in history that was captured with Orville Wright’s camera, we actually have several original prints of the image that were created by the Wrights from their glass plate negative. One of these original prints (#6) was sent to space.

The launch, mission STS-110, was originally scheduled for April 4, but the launch had to be scrubbed and rescheduled due to a hydrogen leak. This was much to the disappointment of Dawne Dewey, Head of Special Collections & Archives, who had traveled to Florida to see the launch but had to return to Ohio prior to the rescheduled launch date.

However, this “false start” makes a bit of an interesting parallel to the events of the Wright Brothers’ First Flight in 1903. Having won the coin toss to see who would try first, Wilbur Wright made the first attempt on December 14th. Needless to say, this did not go according to plan or else we would celebrate the First Flight anniversary 3 days earlier than we do. Wilbur was unharmed, but the plane suffered some slight damage and required repairs. On the morning of December 17th, the brothers were ready to try again, and the first flight that day (Orville’s turn) was a success, soaring into history for 12 seconds at approximately 8 miles per hour!

The April 2002 Atlantis mission itself featured an aerospace “first.” With that flight, one of the crew members, USAF Col. Jerry L. Ross (Mission Specialist 4), became the first person in history to go to space 7 times.

On July 17, 2003, in a special ceremony held in the Student Union, Col. Ross presented the First Flight photo to us, along with a certificate of authenticity with details about the space flight, both of which were gladly accepted by University President Kim Goldenberg.

Wright State University President Kim Goldenberg accepts the First Flight photo and a certificate of authenticity from Astronaut and USAF Col. Jerry L. Ross, at a special ceremony on July 17, 2003. (photo # UA_2003-07-17_0307)

Wright State University President Kim Goldenberg accepts the First Flight photo and a certificate of authenticity from Astronaut and USAF Col. Jerry L. Ross, at a special ceremony on July 17, 2003. (photo # UA_2003-07-17_0307)

Detail of the photo and certificate presented on July 17, 2003, by Col. Ross.

Detail of the photo and certificate presented on July 17, 2003, by Col. Ross. (click to enlarge)

At the same ceremony, Ross also returned another item that gone on mission STS-110, an historic postcard, to the Dayton Aviation Heritage Park, and he presented his mission shirt to General Charles Metcalf, Director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Group photo at the presentation ceremony, July 17, 2003. L-R: Stephen Foster, University Librarian; Col. Jerry L. Ross, astronaut; Dawne Dewey, Head of Special Collections & Archives; Jane Wildermuth, archivist; and Toni Vanden Bos, archivist. (photo # UA_2003-07-17_0335)

Group photo at the presentation ceremony, July 17, 2003. L-R: Stephen Foster, University Librarian; Col. Jerry L. Ross, astronaut; Dawne Dewey, Head of Special Collections & Archives; Jane Wildermuth, archivist; and Toni Vanden Bos, archivist. (photo # UA_2003-07-17_0335)

We will have the framed certificate and photograph on display in the Special Collections & Archives reading room, 4th floor of Dunbar Library, for the next several days. Please stop by sometime to see it! We have a few of our other First Flight photographs currently on exhibit as well.

You can view all of the First Flight photos, along with more than 2,000 other Wright family photographs and the Wright Brothers’ newspapers, online in CORE Scholar.

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