Local ‘Chuttle’ crew awed by sight of real thing

The space shuttle Atlantis took center stage Friday as NASA bid farewell to 30 years of missions. But an earthbound homage to the spacecraft got a good bit of attention too.

Four long-time friends from this region – Bob Scott, Chris Schimpf, Patrick Doran and Chris Rounsaville – left Delaware last weekend in an SUV lovingly transformed into a replica shuttle. The “Chuttle,” complete with faux rocket engines and a tailfin, turned some heads as the quartet tooled southward.

“We had honks. We had a lot of thumbs up,” said Doran, a lawyer from the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.

“Someone recommended that the next time we should get a chiropractor to sponsor us because everyone was just bending over backwards as we drove by,” said Scott, who hails from Swarthmore.

The Nissan Xterra also got a lot of attention from folks pleased to see that the crew was using the road trip to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. That organization helps to connect injured soldiers to support services and programs after returning from the battlefield.

Schimpf said a number of veterans and war families approached them; some shared their stories after seeing the nonprofit’s stickers affixed to the tailfin and sides.

“This woman jumped out of her car and came over and said, ‘Thank you for all you’re doing. My son was a soldier’,” said Schimpf. “And she related a very personal experience to us that really drove home how important it is that folks get behind what they stand for.”

The group has so far raised $2,500, in direct contributions and donations made through their blog, exceeding their goal by a grand. Scott said they raised the $1,500 a week and a half before they even left from Schimpf’s home in Wilmington, Del.

Asked about the launch, the road-weary crew couldn’t say enough.

“It just blows your mind,” said Doran afterwards at the crew’s campsite in Titusville, about 25 miles from the Kennedy Space Center. “We had no idea the power and the incredible beauty of it all.” 

Rounsaville, from Conshohocken, said he was so struck by the blast that he didn’t even bother to document it.

“I didn’t even take pictures. I just stood there,” he said. 

And if the witnessing the historic launch wasn’t enough, the crew also took home the second- place prize in an Independence Day parade in St. Marys, Ga., which was a scheduled stop on their journey to Florida.

Scott said the group had no idea they were even in a contest until they were handed a small trophy, which on Friday was proudly affixed to the Chuttle’s hood.

“We were just going to do it for fun,” said Scott, who said they were edged out by a truck filled with smiling children.

Their unusual road trip having reached its peak moment, the Chuttle crew headed out onto the interstate this afternoon, heading back to the Philadelphia area.

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