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Last Shuttle's Retirement Move Pains Workers

"People know that they could have flown this (shuttles) longer until they had something else, and then they canceled the other stuff," said Walsh, a shuttle technician.

The 65-year-old doubts he'll find new work because of his age.

"I'm not blaming anybody," Walsh said. "It's politics. It's all about money."

Technician David Bakehorn, 55, is also counting down his final work days after 27 years on the job. His layoff is effective Jan. 4.

Bakehorn was there when a brand new Atlantis arrived at Kennedy Space Center in 1985, the fourth operational ship in the fleet.

"It's a big divorce that nobody wants â¿¿ because we're a family," Bakehorn said. "We've watched each other get old and gray and bald. We've watched each other have kids, watched them grow up and watched them have kids ... I'd do anything for most of these people here. I've spent more time around a lot of them than I have my own family, my own kids and my own wife. So it's very difficult."

As bad as it is, the pall hanging over the space center is nothing like it was after Challenger erupted during liftoff in 1986 and Columbia shattered during descent in 2003, at least from Bakehorn's perspective.

"These orbiters are personal. It's like a living, breathing thing to us," Bakehorn said. So he cried not just for the loss of the 14 astronauts who died, "but for the loss of my friends Challenger and Columbia."

NASA's Stephanie Stilson, who has been overseeing the shuttle transition, considers Atlantis "the saving grace for us" since it is staying put.

Shuttle Discovery went to the Smithsonian in Virginia in April. Endeavour moved into the California Science Center in Los Angeles in October.

Those two shuttles flew to their new homes atop a jumbo jet with postcard-perfect backdrops. Atlantis will be ferried on a 76-wheeled platform Friday from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the main base of operations at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Its $100 million exhibit for Atlantis â¿¿ still under construction and financed by tour operator Delaware North Cos. â¿¿ is due to open next summer. The shuttle will appear as though it is orbiting the planet, with its payload bay doors open.

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