Lately, though, it seems Central Florida has only meant one thing to the rest of the world — She Who Will Not Be Named.
Today, space shuttle Atlantis FINALLY (albeit briefly) obscured her and her Kardashian-wannabe hair in its thick, billowing smoke.
That’s about the most beautiful sight on Earth.
I think maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up here, but I’ve made a point to see every single shuttle launch since I moved here in 2003. Sometimes, it’s been from the parking lot at work:
And sometimes we got a lot closer. When E. was just 3 months old, we took her to her first shuttle launch and braved the crowds at Jetty Park in Cape Canaveral.
Hands down, thought, my greatest shuttle experiences came when I worked at my old job, where I was an editor for a local TV station’s website. Know what that means? Kennedy Space Center credentials!
I was lucky enough to be on the press mound at KSC, in the shadow of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building, for two launches (and many more scrubs. Scrubs, for a long time, were the bane of my existence).
I wish everyone had the opportunity to take in the excitement in person of a launch day. I think there’d be a lot more scientists in this country.
The most memorable launch for me came at nearly 9 p.m. on December 22, 2006 — STS-116, just the third shuttle launch after the Columbia disaster. With the firing of those three engines, night suddenly turned into day.
I wish I could fully explain what it’s like to be a couple miles away from a launching shuttle. Think of the loudest speakers you’ve ever experienced at a concert — and multiple it by 100. You feel the ground moving. You can feel the roar of the shuttle inside your body, as if it’s actually replacing your own heartbeat. It’s awe-inspiring, to say the least. And it forever changes any blasé feelings you may have once had about the space program.
I worked at the station during the first several missions about the Columbia disaster. I can remember feeling my heart in my throat as I watched Discovery launch in the summer of 2005 and thinking of the men and women aboard. It’s a tremendous sacrifice they make for our country and for the advancement of science and exploration. They are heroes.
So, it was with great sadness I prepared for today’s shuttle launch — the final shuttle launch ever. I really should have headed over to the Cape. But honestly, the thought of battling 750,000 other spectators, on a day when there was a 70 percent chance of a scrub, just did not appeal to me. And I would have had to do it with E. by myself and the thought of getting stuck in a car for up to 8 hours with a 3-year-old scares the bejesus out of me.
Besides, since nothing is ever going to come close to watching it from KSC anyway, I might as well enjoy the front-seat view from my living room.
But I wanted E to still be excited about it. We have a launch routine here — we watch it on TV and as soon as the shuttle begins its slow ascent from the launch pad, we race out the front door and look east. We have a pretty clear view in the direction and we’ve seen several shuttle and rocket launches this way.
So, E. and I did a few test shots with our cameras on the TV.
So, as per routine, we watched the launch and then raced outside. And this is what we saw … nothing but clouds.
See that patch of blue in the middle of the sky. That’s where we should have seen Atlantis streaking toward space, leaving a huge smoke trail in its wake. Nope. Nada. Some intrepid photographers wouldn’t give up though. They were hungry for the shot.
After a few minutes of pouting, the first thing she said to me was, “You said we were going to go to the station for this one.” A) I have no idea what station means but b) this child forgets nothing. Clouds obscured our view for last month’s launch too, and I may or may not have said that for the next one, we’d go closer. Foiled, once again, by my past self!
Then she says to me, “Oh well, I guess we’ll have to wait until the next one.” I tried explaining that this was the last one, but the pouting was getting worse. So I did what any good mom does — I bribed her with a trip to Target and found the one thing I knew would turn her day around.
Yes, her Sound of Music obsession is still alive and well.
So, instead of spending the afternoon sitting on the Beachline, we spent if Do-Re-Meing and singing about our Favorite Things (and I may or may not have been lusting over Capt. Von Trapp. Seriously, how hot is he??).
I’ll take that day. Besides, we still have a sonic boom to look forward to (assuming weather doesn’t screw that up too and force Atlantis to land at Edwards in California).
And do yourself a favor — check out some of the really cool resources on NASA.gov. I promise, it doesn’t take much to become a space geek.