05 November 2010

A Tale of Two Shuttle Launches

Or perhaps I should say - almost launches.

The Spaceship that lands on Earth!

When the Guy and I were newly married the Space Shuttle Program was also new. And it was a sad fact that I had never seen the ocean. Both of us were very interested in the Space Program. We were born in the 1950s and grew up with our parents taking us out in the back yard at night to look for satellites. The Space Race was on! We actually got out of school when rockets were launching. The day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon school was closed and my Papa even stayed home from work. An unheard of occurrence. Everyone was fascinated with space.

When the space shuttle was developed we were in awe. And we currently live in Rocket City. We fondly call our most prominent landmark the Race and Sprocket Centre, but in actuality, it's the Space and Rocket Centre. I can't tell you how many times I have been there, particularly when friends and relatives come to visit. Space Camp is here and I pass by the Space Shuttle Enterprise pretty much on a daily basis.

Columbia was the first shuttle to actually launch and that was in April 1981. Come November history was being made. Columbia was going to launch again! It was the first re-use of a manned space vehicle and the Canadian robot arm was being given it's initial test in space. The Guy and I took off work (we lived in Dallas then) and drove to Florida to be part of this most historic occasion. Except it didn't happen.

We went a few days early so that I could see the ocean. And wasn't that the most fabulous thing? How do you describe the ocean to someone who has never seen it? Like the Grand Canyon, pictures just cannot convey what it really is. And did I mention we also went to Walt DisneyWorld? That was also a first and the start of a long and happy relationship. The Guy's brother lived in Kissimmee then, so we also visited with him. (That was before he and my siser got married.)

Along came the day for the shuttle launch. The three of us got up early to go get a good spot along the Indian River to see the launch. I don't know how it is now, but back then the Indian River was smelly. In not a good way. But it was the best place for John Q. Public to view, so there we were. (And I still to this day recall the odour of the water!) It was so exciting to be there!!! Even if the river did smell. How many of you recall when the external fuel tank was painted white?

We were surrounded by many other people who had the same idea about the best place to watch. And we could see the giant countdown clock. Now back then the countdown would go for a time and then have scheduled stops. We went through a number of those. But once we got down to the 5 minute mark, those were pretty much finished. Imagine the anticipation building up. Not just with us, but in the entire crowd. And as I was right on the edge of that smelly river, I did not want to be accidentally pushed into it! The countdown continued. Then when it got down to a minute, it stopped. We had a little radio with us so we could listen to the commentary. It was T minus one minute and holding. No explanation that I recall. Eventually the countdown started again. T minus one minute and counting! Everyone was on pins and needles. Then there as another hold! Oh no! And it did indeed start again. There were several of these unexplained holds all the way down to 32 seconds.

T minus 32 seconds and holding. Those words will always be in my memory. They've even made it into our family lexicon. Because that is as far as the countdown got that day. There was some kind of mechanical problem and the launch was scrubbed until it could be repaired. We sat for many hours on the bank of that smelly river and did not see the launch. Mike and I had to go back to Dallas. It has never worked out for us to go down again and see the shuttle launch in person.

In 1985 I was at work listening to the launch on the radio and was horrified when the Challenger exploded. I honestly could not believe what I had heard. To this day I get chill bumps and see the visual in my head whenever I hear or read about it. Then when Columbia blew up on re-entry, I had that same horror all over again.

I will always admire the courage and spirit of our astronauts.

Fast forward to this week. November 2010. The next to the last Space Shuttle launch EVER. The final misson of the Space Shuttle Discovery. My soon-to-be son-in-law works for a company on the arsenal that is associated with the Space Program. Due to something related to that, he was supposed to go see this launch. Now how exciting is that? So earlier this week Abbey and Donnie packed up and drove to Florida. They knew when they left that the launch had been delayed one day. But not to worry. I did mention the long and happy relationship with DisneyWorld, n'est pas? Wednesday was spent with The Mouse. So yesterday happened, as it is wont to do. During the day it was decided that the shuttle launch would be delayed until Friday. OK. Friday will still work.

But alas, it was not meant to be. The shuttle has a gas leak and once again the countdown is holding with no new launch time yet predicted. The same thing has happened on the second to last shuttle launch that happened on the second shuttle launch. Launch scrubbed. And just as happened 29 years ago this month, my daughter is coming home not having seen a shuttle launch live and in person. What irony. But, there is the opportunity to go again. And I hope that they will get to be part of history. If not, there is always the television!

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1 comment:

Craig Miyamoto said...

Oh Becky, it's so sad that you didn't get to see the shuttle launches even though you were there. (Had similar experiences with Alcatraz boat tour.) Hope it works out for you this next time!