Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blast Off

It was quite the journey, but we got to see a shuttle launch!!!! Yesterday, we witnessed Endeavour leave on it's final journey into space. I know space exploration isn't everyone's cup of tea (to be honest, just thinking about space kind of freaks me out :-) But I have always thought it would be amazing to see a shuttle launch in person.

I'd heard stories like - if you're close enough, you can feel the sound vibrations of the shuttle launching in your chest. I'd also heard that the noise carries for miles. I thought it would be quite an experience and boy was I right!

Endeavour was scheduled to launch April 29, 2011 in the late afternoon. We were given VIP tickets that would allow us to access Kennedy SFC for the launch. Close enough to 'feel'! Yay!

Two things on our mind that morning:

We met up at a hotel in Cape Canaveral to board the bus that would take us to KSFC.

Lots of bling:

People were lined up all along the roads leading into KSFC and the Air Force Base. They said they expected 750,000 for the launch.

We got to see many interesting buildings on our way through the Air Force base and onto KSFC, but this was my favorite. It's hard to even describe how big this building is. The water tower gives some sort of reference, but not enough! It is the largest single story building in the world and those grey doors roll up to let the shuttle out. But not all the way up - the doors haven't been rolled all the way up since the days of the Apollo program. Hard to imagine anything bigger than a shuttle isn't it?! They said that the building is so big it needs it's own weather report. Water can condense inside and it can literally rain inside the building.
The first thing they had us do when we arrived was take our picture with the countdown clock:

We had just finished getting our lunch when the bad news came over the speaker system: No go for launch. :-( Most of our group was in a 'pre launch briefing' so we ate our lunch and played in the Saturn building while they finished the meeting.

We were one of the last buses to leave and we ended up being kind of glad. We were stopped on the road because the President was landing right beside us!!! How cool is that? Closest I've ever been to a President that's for sure! He got into his motorcade with his family and set off to tour some of KSFC and see Atlantis (last shuttle scheduled for launch some time in July.)

Fast forward about 2 weeks. Monday, May 16, 2011 - We arrive back at the same hotel at 5:30 am (ouch!) to board the bus once again:

We arrive just after a beautiful sunrise. Everything still looks like a go for launch with less than 2 hours to go. But wait - there is a cracked tile! We hold our breath while we listen to Mission Control (over the loudspeaker system) talk through the tile repair. Success! Tile is repaired perfectly. Still all systems go.

The astronauts are locked into the shuttle:
The kids find ways to keep occupied during the final 9 minute hold (which, deceptively takes about 40 minutes! Those NASA people and their confusing lingo! Ha!)
And then, the 9 minute hold is released!!!!! It really is Final Countdown time!!!!!
I wonder what those astronauts could be thinking, sitting out there on that platform. I would be a complete mess! Heck, I was so nervous and excited and I wasn't even near them!
We made the kids come up and sit with us during the final minutes of the countdown. For a second I thought the 3:30 am wake up call was going to come back to bite us when it looked like ML was going to have a meltdown right at launch time:
But she quickly recovered and we were ready to watch.......


And it was amazing. And it was unreal. And it made me proud to be an American. A part of a country that leads the way in exploration and innovation. The sound waves were my favorite part. We weren't able to see the shuttle for long, due to the cloud cover. But the sound waves hit us seconds after the shuttle was gone from view and lasted for a good minute or so. You can see them shaking the camera on our video of the launch! You really can feel the vibrations in your chest. Amazing.
Godspeed Endeavour! Support our Space Programs Everyone!