Yesterday I accomplished one of my lifelong dreams of watching a space shuttle launch, LIVE! It was truly an awe-inspiring experience.
The day started early as my friend Randee and I left Orlando for the Kennedy Space Center at 6:30 in the morning. Luckily, there was little traffic and we made it to KSC in less than an hour. We met a friend of a friend who worked at KSC and received our visitor center tickets from him. Most of the sites were closing at 10 am in preparations for the launch so we rushed off the to Apollo/Saturn V Center.
I think I should pause and explain to those who may not know this, but NASA and space was, and still is, a big part of my life. I worked as a Space Camp counselor in California for 2 years and also for a summer at a Space Camp in Izmir, Turkey. During that time, I made wonderful friends, had thrilling experiences, met a handful of astronauts (including Buzz Aldrin, Gordon Cooper and Sally Ride)...in short, some of the best times in my life are connected to NASA and Space Camp.
You can only imagine my excitement when I entered the Apollo/Saturn V Center. It was better than Christmas in a candy store for me. There was a presentation on the Apollo program and the moon landing of Apollo 11 and I actually got choked up while I watched it, TWICE! Once when they spoke of the Apollo 1 fire and the death of my favorite astronaut, Gus Grissom, and the other when they showed the live footage of Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon.
Unfortunately, by the time we finished in the Apollo/Saturn V center, it was too late to go to the International Space Station Center. We returned to the main Visitor Center where Randee and I rode a simulator that demonstrated the feel of a space shuttle launch. It was really intense!
As the countdown to launch reached T-minus 1 hour, Daniel met us again and got us on the last bus out to the Eastern causeway to view the launch. This is one of closest places you can view the launch from! It was a perfect setting. Can you see the launch pad in the picture below? It's located just a little to the left of the center, between the two green islands. It's the gray speck.
Excitement built up as the countdown reached T-minus three minutes. At T-minus two minutes, everyone who had been sitting and reading, stopped and stood up. The crowd of people were all standing at attention, holding their breaths.
Finally it came. T-minus 10 seconds, 9, 8, 7, main engine start, 4, 3, 2, 1. Liftoff!!!
At first, all you could see was a thick cloud of smoke (it's really steam) surrounding the launch pad, but then through all the cloudy confusion, you finally see it. Space Shuttle Atlantis taking flight, higher and higher. As Atlantis broke through the thick clouds above it, leaving in its wake a trail of pure white smoke and lighting up the sky with its bright orange-red flame, I started crying. It was really one of the most spectacular and beautiful sights I have ever seen.
Before you even had the proper amount of time to process all the beauty in the launch, Atlantis disappeared into the atmosphere and all that was left was a clear and distinct trail of its path into space.
Everyone piled back onto the buses and returned to the main Visitor Center, the sense of excitement and awe clinging to us. That feeling is still with me now.
Thank you to Valerie and Daniel for pulling some strings and getting me and my friend tickets to the launch! You two are amazing! You have made one of my dreams come true!!!
© Connie Hum 2009