ULA retires Delta rockets after 60-year run: 'Oh man, that's it'

It’s the end of an era for United Launch Alliance, which retired its Delta fleet after more than 60 years. The final Delta IV Heavy lifted off on Tuesday at 12:53 p.m. from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. 

"It’s like losing a family member, but the memories are awesome," said Carleton Bailie, a space photographer who's captured decades of Delta launches.

The final launch was bittersweet for Bailie because he’s seen 160 Delta launches and loved seeing the legacy grow. 

"That was May of 1986," said Bailie, remembering the first time he saw Delta launch into orbit. 

For six decades, Delta’s dominated the space industry. The rocket's been reliable, powerful and crucial to national security.

"It’s absolutely critical to national defense. That’s why when it retires, it must be replaced with a reliable rocket," said Space UpClose founder and space analyst Ken Kremer. 

The Delta fleet is being replaced with the Vulcan rocket because Delta was too expensive.

"It costs too much money, alright, so the new Vulcan will cut the cost by roughly 70%. When they got to compete with SpaceX, they need to cut as much as cost as they can," added Kremer. 

The goal is to cut costs and increase launch time turnaround, making Vulcan ULA’s newest workhorse.

"The Vulcan, it’s going to be interesting to see what they can put up on it and if it’s got the workhorse ability that they hope it does," said Bailie. 

The final fiery farewell sent a United States spy satellite into orbit and sent space fans down memory lane as Delta’s 60-year story comes to an end.

"It’s really sad and bittersweet to see it retiring," said Kremer. 

"It’s going to be tonight probably where you go, ‘Oh man, that’s it,’" concluded Bailie.