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Memories of Finland at the Launch of the Space Shuttle


By Martha Witthoft Kopra


On 15 July 2009, my son, Timothy Lennart Kopra, and six crew mates blasted into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the International Space Station. I sobbed as I watched the rocket blast off and disappear.
Awe, pride, and joy mixed with sadness, sadness because Tim’s father, Lennart, and brother, Daniel, were not with us to share this moment. Lennart died in 1998; Daniel in 2005

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It was disappointing when the June 13 and 17 launches were canceled. Many people changed hotel and airline reservations and work and vacation schedules in order to return for the rescheduled July 11 launch.


Then, disbelief and disappointment when, at the last minute, the weather forced the next two launches to be scrubbed. Finally, technology and weather merged to assure the safe shuttle launch of the Endeavour STS-127. It was an overwhelming emotional moment.
Friends and families came from all over the United States and Canada to view the launch and support the astronauts. During formal receptions and informal gatherings, we visited with our families, renewed friendships, and formed friendships with friends and families of the other astronauts.


Amidst the fun while waiting, we were anxious and concerned for the astronauts.


Two days after launch, we were excited to see Tim smile when he entered the International Space Station and embrace his teammates and friends with whom he had trained for his stay on Station.
On Day Four of the STS-127 mission, Tim’s wife Dawn, my son Andy, and my husband Tom and I were privileged and thrilled to be at NASA Mission Control Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Houston to watch Tim’s space walk.


Tim’s heritage reflects the international background of the six residents with whom he is staying on Station.


His grandparents, Antti Kopra and Ester Elisabet Saksinen, emigrated from Finland in 1915, Antti from Karelia, Ester from Helsinki. Tim’s father, Lennart Lauri Kopra, was born in Virginia, Minnesota, but when Lennart was two years old, his family moved to New Finland, a Finnish community in Saskatchewan, Canada


My father’s family emigrated from Germany in the latter 1880s; my mother’s forebears left Germany for the new world in the early 1700s.
I remember with joy the year 1994-95 when Lennart and I lived in Finland, the graciousness of Lennart’s Finnish family when my husband Tom and I went to Finland in 2003, and the outpouring of love extended to Timothy and his family when they visited Finland in 2007.


We just found out yesterday that Tim is assigned to the last shuttle mission in September 2010. It’s great for him. His four crew mates who were also assigned were in his astronaut class of 2000 -- they’re good friends. And the commander is great. I’ll forward the news release. (Tim returned to Earth on Discovery STS-128 on Sept 11 -- he’s doing great, getting back his Earth Legs!)

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