I sit here over a week out from watching Endeavour soar towards the stars and still I can’t quite put the experience into words. It went so fast, and maybe I should have started my cameras rolling just a little sooner, but it was almost like I blinked and the shuttle was gone!
May 16th started very early for me. After just 3 hours of sleep we at the Mercury House 2 woke up about 1:30 to get ready. We had a quick breakfast at the Waffle House in Cocoa Beach (although a couple in our group just watched the rest of us eat as they were appalled by the cleanliness of the restaurant) before heading to Kennedy Space Center. We were told to be there before 4:30 so that we were at the press site before the road was shut down to allow the Astrovan to come through.
I spent the wee hours setting up my cameras and taking pre-dawn pictures of the shuttle across the way. I found myself still in awe of being at the media site. I looked at the time and went racing towards the access road in time to see the Astrovan drive past us in front of the VAB about 5:11 am. In the pre-dawn it was amazing because the lights were on in the Astrovan and we could see the astronauts waving at us from the windows and door of the van as it stopped to let a few people off (right in front of us instead of pulling into the VAB like it did before the scrub 2 weeks earlier).
They didn’t turn around this time, and kept going. The rest of the morning was a little tense as there were several things that could go wrong, that could cause the launch to be postponed again and I guess a part of me thought maybe it wouldn’t go up again. As the time got closer and closer I was ready, but yet at the same time in denial that the time had come, but through all that I have video and pictures of Endeavour rising up off the ground.
My video says what I can say in words the best…, “Awesome” “Wow!” “Unbelievable”. Really there are no words to describe what you feel when you see the smoke start to flower out from the base of the launch pad, then the flames explode and push the shuttle off the ground, brighter then the sun…smoke flowering out even more, and then it rises up towards the sky (and in our case the clouds) and you see it disappear almost before the sound, a series of explosions and pops, hit you. When the sound finally hit us all went silent…no voices were heard again until the sounds faded into the early morning light. If one watched the clouds, the shadow of the shuttle could be witnessed curving off to the left. We just stood there and stared, all in awe that we just watched 7 human beings blast off to space, a place each of us would secretly love to spend even a few hours.
STS-134 Launch of Endeavour (Click here to watch my video on YouTube).
And that was the last launch of Endeavour. On the horizon is only one more shuttle launch, an added on flight of Atlantis. STS-135 is currently scheduled for July 8, 2011…the last shuttle to leave the U.S. What comes next? NASA is working on the next manned space craft, but it will be several years, some estimate at least 5 years before that will be available. There are many who I have talked to who were unaware that this was the end our shuttle program. We all dream of being astronauts, we all applaud NASA for what they do, but for some reason the funding NASA needs to continue is reluctantly given. Why? Why is the U.S. so reluctant to fund an organization that has improved all of our lives. So many things have come from NASA, technologies and medical research have all been advanced because of our aeronautics programs. It can’t end! We have so much further we can take things and I hope that people realize just how important these dreams are to us all.
In the end the NASA Tweetup was about new friends and about celebrating NASA’s launches into Outer Space. Didn’t we all dream at one point or another of having such an opportunity. I love NASA’s motto: “Failure is Not an Option” and we need to remember that. There are some who want to discontinue the NASA programs, and they would be wrong. We need NASA to keep reaching for the stars and I hope that we never forget that dream. Didn’t we all want to be a part of Star Wars or Star Trek…to travel from world to world, planet to planet, and universe to universe? That is the dream that NASA is trying to reach for us.