Stratford youth had inside look at last shuttle launch.

He looked first at the jet-black sky and then peered through the telescope's eyepiece, seeing the image of our nearest planetary neighbor some 49 million miles away. The 16-inch Cassegrain telescope with the 4-inch refractor showed the reddish colors and some of the details of Mars. Stratford's Elliot Severn was hooked.

Severn was just 10 years old when his parents took him to the observatory at Boothe Park in the summer of 2001 to see noted astronomer John Dobson host one of his famous "sidewalk astronomy" lectures. And after Dobson's talk, Severn lined up, with dozens of others, to look through the park's telescope. Not only did he see Mars, but he also looked at the moon, with all its incredible craters, massive mountains and grayish hues.

He hasn't stopped looking since.

Severn is 19 now, a junior to be at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y. His love of space hasn't ever changed. Severn -- aka, astroholic007 (his Twitter name) -- was one of 150 people to be selected by NASA to Tweet a behind-the-scenes perspective of the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis. It was the 135th -- and last -- launch of the space shuttle program, which roared off pad 39A Friday morning at 11:29 a.m.

Severn was one of 5,500 people who originally signed up for the Tweet-up opportunity back in June and is tweeting for NASA's 1.5 million followers.

"I had forgotten about it, to be honest," Severn said of the sign-up. "I had been trying to get some tickets to view the launch and when it didn't work out, I was kind of bummed. But that same day when I found out I wasn't getting the tickets I got the email from NASA."

At the crack of dawn last Wednesday, Severn flew to Orlando and made his way to the Kennedy Space Center to begin a whirlwind period that had him visit the Space X facilities (and see the Dragon capsule that orbited the Earth last December), speak with NASA associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, and interview shuttle astronaut Mike Massimino.

Severn got his first telescope when he was nine. It was a 10-inch Dobsonian and he still has it, along with another that he's built. He's seen the moons of Jupiter and the planet's clockwise and counterclockwise swirling cloud bands. He's seen sun spots, the rings of Saturn, the Martian ice caps. He's looked at galaxies, seen stars forming and stars dying.

He will never stop looking at the night sky.

And, yes, he's had the dream, as have so many others, of being an astronaut. And while NASA moves through this transition phase from the end of the shuttle era to a new future, highlighted potentially with a landing on an asteroid or Mars by the late 2020s, Severn feels his best chance to making it to space one day might come from another route -- Space X, for one.

"I know it's unlikely to be chosen to be an astronaut, but with commercial space travel? Who knows?" Severn said. "I'd love to go into space."


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