The crew of STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program left this plaque on the flight deck of Atlantis after they left the spacecraft following the shuttle's landing in July 2011. The plaque is displayed inside one of the shuttle's processing hangars at Kennedy and will be put on public display with Atlantis. Photo credit: NASA/Ken Thornsley › Larger image
STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson speaks during groundbreaking ceremonies for the exhibit that will house Atlantis. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett › Larger image
A simple, plastic plaque left inside space shuttle Atlantis following the last mission of NASA’s shuttle program is a priceless tribute to the work force, said one of the managers who worked with the spacecraft for more than 20 years.
"I was just overwhelmed with joy first that they left it and humbled that they thought of us," said Walter "Buddy" Mckenzie, who manages the forward and midbody sections of Atlantis for United Space Alliance, or USA.
The plaque was carried into orbit with astronaut Chris Ferguson, who commanded STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program's 30-years of missions. It's an 8-inch by 8½-inch plaque, sized precisely to fit over the center display in the cockpit. Ferguson placed it there before he left the shuttle following its July 21, 2011, landing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"We wanted to thank the people who made it all possible," Ferguson said recently. "It wasn't a promotion, it was just a way for the astronauts who have used this vehicle for 30 years to go back and forth safely to space to thank the people who made it happen day in and day out. The bottom line is, it was a tribute to them who made it all happen."
The plaque remained inside Atlantis for about a week before it was taken out and put in a display case in Orbiter Processing Facility-2 for people who don't go inside the crew compartment.
"That's for everybody who participated and did the world-class jobs that they did," Mckenzie said.
The plaque will go on display with Atlantis when the spacecraft is moved to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
"It deserves (to be displayed) not because we put it there, but because of what it stands for, the men and women who spent a generation making the orbiters safe for astronauts," said Ferguson.
The plaque was not the first tribute placed in Atlantis. The crew for STS-132 mission in 2010, flying what was then supposed to be Atlantis' last mission, put a mission decal inside the crew compartment and autographed around it with an inscription marking, as STS-132 Commander Ken Ham called it, the "first last mission."
Mckenzie said every thank you is welcome, no matter what form it takes.
"The payoff for us is that we get the vehicles ready and it takes everybody to do the job and the astronauts get to go do their job up there," Mckenzie said. "It's a tribute to the workers and it can't be said any better than what they did."
Steven Siceloff NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center