Thursday, May 19, 2011
Dawn at Kennedy Space Center
The next-to-last space shuttle launch was Monday (if I was a real English professor I'd use the word "penultimate") and scholars, I was there.
When I went to my first space shuttle launch, STS-102 in March 2001, I was all like, Well, that's it, I've seen a shuttle launch! I was writing a book in which the characters go to many shuttle launches, and I needed to see one to know what it was like. Having crossed that off my list, I never thought I'd make a point of seeing another one again.
But then the program was canceled, and I wanted to write about the end of American human spaceflight. I felt like I should see the last few launches in order to write about it. My second launch was ten years after my first, three months ago, STS-133 in February 2011, and I was surprised by how different it was from 102. 102 was a night launch and 133 was day; I was at a different vantage point, the weather was different, 102 was pre-Columbia and 133 was post-, and the overall spectacle, sound, and experience were totally different.
As of Monday, I've seen three launches, and I'm starting to understand why some people who live in central Florida make it a point to go to every single one. Each one is a little different from the others, they each have a different story behind them and put on a different performance. Realizing this of course makes me incredibly sad that there is only one more to go for all time. And of course I plan to be there no matter what it takes.
This time I had a WAY better vantage point than I ever have, and better than almost anyone else. I mean not to be braggy, but I was closer than the press site, even closer (by a smidgen) than the astronaut's families, where President Obama was for the first attempt. This is all thanks to my friend Omar and his father Frank, both of whom work at the Cape, and they were generous enough to invite me along on their Extra Special Access badges. Here is a great video that Omar shot: