It’s been a long 24 hours, as this was NASA Friday!
On Thursday, I left for Florida and the Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-135 launch. I have always wanted to see a shuttle launch and missed seeing one back in the 1980s when Sally Ride went up. So I jumped at the chance to go this time.
I flew commercial and was on the same flight as Sarah and her son Will. Cheryl and Bill were meeting us in Orlando because they were flying down in Bill’s airplane. I could have flown down with Bill and Cheryl, but the potential for bad weather or if the plane had issues make me a bit nervous. So we all arrived in Florida around 7:30pm, got the rental cars, stopped for supper at TGI Fridays, and then drove over to Marritt Island to pick up the bus to take us to NASA at 2am. Lots of people were waiting to get on the buses and it was raining off and on. A little after 3am we arrived at the Kennedy Space Center and we were one of the first buses to arrive. There was no one there! It was wonderful and weird, as everything was open, but it was 3 in the morning. So we took a lot of photos and headed to the Shuttle Launch Experience. There was no line at the Shuttle Launch Experience, which is a ride that is suppose to be identical to what it feels like to be in the shuttle when it launches. It was fantastic and a lot of fun. Then we were off to the NASA store, which had two levels and an insane amount of people. The were so many people you could not even walk through. While I was waiting to checkout I noticed that Astronaut Mike Mullane was signing autographs for his books. So I got to meet him, had a photo taken, and a book signed and it was only 4:30am! Then it was back inline to checkout, which took over 45 minutes! Next we visited the Star Trek exhibit and I got to sit in Kirk’s chair. They also had a Enterprise shuttle and lots of props. By this time there were thousands of people at the Kennedy Space Center! Way too many people. At 5:30 am we had to get back inline to get back on the buses. For the next hour or so we stood inline, watched the sun come up, watch it drizzle, and then watch the sky finally clear up. By a little before 8 am we were on the Causeway with our chairs. Then we waited and waited, watched NASA helicopters fly over, saw dolphins swim in front of us, and listened to Mission Control over the loud speakers countdown to the flight at 11:26 am.
Finally, the countdown started and the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched! It was incredible. First there was this little puff of smoke. Then you could see the trail of smoke and this really bright light from the flame. Finally you could hear Atlantis, as the loud roar of noise coming from it as finally reached us as it kept getting higher and higher. The huge crowd was counting down with the clock and then they were yelling and screaming and clapping. It was so much fun and everyone was so excited that it launched, as there was only a 30% chance that Atlantis would launch today because the weather had been bad. But it launched! It’s hard to explain what it meant to see Atlantis fly. Joyful, exciting, inspiring, hopeful. I just kept remembering that line from the movie Contact “they should have sent a poet.”
So then we had to pack up and find the bus. We were lucky and the bus made good time back to the parking lot and our car. Only a little over an hour. Then only a little over an hour to the hotel where we finally got to check-in and then off to supper. So a really long two days with no sleep, but it was totally worth it.