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Father and son at shuttle's start and end

They’re just a father and his son, out taking pictures at a shuttle launch. But these pictures reflect 30 years of history. On the left, Chris Bray and his father, Kenneth, stand out in the crowd that gathered to watch the first space shuttle lift off on April 12, 1981. Thirty years later, Chris and Kenneth commemorated the last shuttle launch by striking the same pose. The then-and-now photos have become an Internet sensation.

As of today, the pictures have been viewed almost 700,000 times on Chris Bray's Flickr photo gallery — and that doesn't count the additional traffic to Yahoo and The Washington Post (or, ahem, to this posting).

The Brays went to Kennedy Space Center in 1981 because Kenneth, then a 39-year-old jewelry designer, was commissioned to create a series of pins for the first shuttle mission. He brought 13-year-old Chris along to share the experience. Chris' mother, Ginny, took the father-and-son picture.

When the Brays heard about the final shuttle launch, they saw it as a golden opportunity to mark 30 years for the NASA space program as well as their own lives. Chris is now 43, and works for an interactive marketing agency in New York. Kenneth, 69, is still working as well. They put their names in for a lottery to purchase tickets to view the July 8 launch from the Astronaut Hall of Fame's grounds near the space center. The Brays won a place at the party, and despite flight delays and a rental-car snafu, they made it to the spot in plenty of time to re-create the 1981 pose. This time the photographer was Chris' girlfriend, Chelsea.

Chris calls it "the picture we waited 30 years to complete."

I asked Chris a couple of questions about then and now via email:

Q: It sounds as if you have shared space experiences. Any other special memories? How many launches have you seen?

A: These were the only two launches we attended. Other "space memories" involve building model rockets together, and astronomy ... watching solar eclipses with a pinhole box, getting up at 2 a.m. to go look at Saturn and Jupiter. Those types of things.

Q: Can you cast your mind back to what you were thinking when the 1981 picture was taken, and what you were thinking last week?

A: I remember being excited and anxious at the first launch. I had never seen an actual launch, and I had some memories of watching the later Apollo flights on TV, so this was a thrill. The most vivid memory of the first launch was the sound. Last week, I remember turning to my girlfriend and saying, "I feel like I'm 13 again."

If you're 40-something or older, these pictures are likely to spark reflections about how times have changed over the past three decades, for the space program, for society and for your own lives. Please feel free to share your reflections — even if you weren't around when the first shuttle flew.


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Update: Watch the Bray's interview with Ann Curry on TODAY, July 21, 2011.