My father was a rocket scientist — well an aeronautical engineer. He spent the late 60s in Houston as a lead weights engineer for the Apollo project and our family was proud of his effort and excited by our venture into space. Being one of the thousands who helped put a man on the moon was probably the high point of his professional life; even at the end when dementia had robbed him of the power of recognition and speech, a news show commemorating the anniversary of the moonwalk caused him to brighten and utter his first words in years ‘Moon shot’.
The end of the US manned space program — and that is what it seems to be — saddens me. And the launches of the Endeavour and Atlantis were my last chances to see a space shot. We tried year ago early in the shuttle program when we took our kids to Disneyworld, but that launch was delayed. This time we were committed at all costs (and it turned out to be costly.)
We tried for the April 19 launch flying into Orlando and staying at an airport motel since all the rooms on the beaches were booked. Our daughter had entered the ticket lottery for slots at the Kennedy Center and obtained tickets for us — so equipped with our dashboard placard that allowed entry we drove to the center on Merritt Island at 10 am for the 3:30ish launch.
This meant a lot of time to wait. The instructions included a long list of things that could not be brought onto the site but mentioned that collapsible chairs in bags were permitted — so we went out and bought a couple of the heavy clumsy things — and so did everyone else there. And a lucky thing it was since there was no other seating. We found a propitious spot on a grassy hill near a jumbotron and with a view to where the shuttle would appear above the trees and staked out our chair space.We then took advantage of the time to tour the Space Center, see a 3D Imax on the Hubble (fantastic) and tour a space shuttle on display.
Everything seemed to be going well, but alas about 3 hours before launch, it was scrubbed for technical problems.The trip back to Orlando airport took over 3 hours — My favorite part was where they held up a few hundred thousand cars in order to let a couple of yachts through.They announced that the next attempt might be in a few days, so I got online and found a great hotel with a room overlooking the beach in Melbourne and we waited hoping they would launch. The launch was delayed and so we headed back to Nashville but we had a great weekend at the beach — so lemonade from lemons.The reshoot was not very convenient — it was the week of my retirement festivities and our daughter and family were visiting — but we were committed. Unfortunately we couldn’t get a flight on Sunday May 15 to Orlando — SW was all booked and we needed SW because if the launch were scrapped we wouldn’t lose our ticket value — so we flew into Jacksonville and drove down to Cocoa beach. It was a short drive at 3:30 am up to the launch. (launch was scheduled for 8:56 am — they are set to coincide with the position of the space station and people are to arrive hours before — they lock the island down at about 6:30 am and don’t allow cars in after that)
Many people arrived with their families at midnight and bedded down for the night in the grassy area with the best views.Here is Ed at 4 am.There were families really committed to seeing the launch.Throughout the night and right up to the launch there were retired astronauts narrating events on the Jumbotron. Former Astronaut Jon McBride http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_McBride was a great cheerleader: “looking good, when it gets down to the final 3 hours, it is usually a go — now we are at 30 minutes — 95% of the time it is a go if we get this far – of course there was that time we got down to 6 seconds and scrubbed” — Kept us on the edges of our very uncomfortable chairs.We saw the astronauts suiting up and then getting into their chairs in the shuttle.The cap that protects the fuel from producing ice on the outside of the fuel tank was removed.Then countdown, lift offAnd here it wasAnd then in a 13 seconds it was gone like a fist when you open your hand. (thanks to Dashiell)