What a great write-up and thanks for all the great images.
I had seen a few launches from my school campus in the mid 80s. But the first launch that I attended in a more direct manner was STS-61B, the Atlantis in November of 1985. It was a late evening launch and was quite spectacular to see in person, even though we could only watch from across the water outside Kennedy Space Center crowding the sides of the roadways with many others who did not have access. So it was quite a thrill when I got the opportunity to get tickets to actually get on Cape Canaveral for the launch of STS135. I jumped at the chance and took my two young nephews with me to watch the Atlantis once again reach out to the stars. I hope the memory of it impacts them in a positive manner and helps to kindle their interest in pursuing and dreaming big despite the odds and the challenges it might take to get there. So it was a fantastic privilege to personally witness Atlantis take flight again.
Many thanks to the countless people who over the years worked to make the shuttle program such a source of inspiration for the rest of us.