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Photo Courtesy CollectSPACE.com

When I interviewed STS-130 Mission Specialist, Bob Behnken last week in Houston at Johnson Space Center, I asked his advice for what to expect at my first shuttle launch. He gave me three tips: First, he said, “Bring bug spray.” Fortunately, we didn’t have to worry about that with this morning’s cold, windy weather. Second, he told me to hope for clear skies. Night launches are all spectacular, but when skies are clear, you can keep eyes on the shuttle for up to eight minutes. When skies are cloudy, that visual can be as little as eighteen seconds. Finally, he repeated something I’ve heard from shuttle viewing veterans: put the camera down and just watch.

With mostly clear skies and a flawless countdown, my more-than-20-year-old dream was realized as the shuttle Endeavour lifted off before dawn this morning. The bright white light from the massive rocket boosters turned night to day within seconds. My brain could hardly process what my eyes were seeing, and when the sound finally hit my ears (there are a few strangely quiet seconds before the sound reaches you) my entire body felt the force of this amazing vehicle. It was bigger, better, and more exhilarating than I ever could have imagined.

I cried like a baby.

The tears started when Endeavour was given the final “go” for launch. They were slow as my heart rate began to pick up speed, and by the time the shuttle cleared the tower, I was breathless. Once Endeavour pierced the thin clouds and the entire sky was glowing bright white, the sobbing came on hard. As I listened to the loud outdoor speakers blast the communication between Mission Control and Commander Zamka, and watched Endeavour sail through the sky as a bright star for a good seven minutes, I sat on the ground and cried uncontrollably. I cried for the spectacular images my mind was still attempting to process. I cried for the awe and wonder of such an incredible display of human ability and teamwork. I cried for the realization of such a long-held dream that I wasn’t sure would ever happen. And I cried to think that this icon of my childhood, the vehicle of exploration that lit my imagination on fire so many years ago, only has four more launches ahead of her.

As I finally settled back in to the press room and finally overcame my weeping, I found myself overcome with a smile that would not end. I smiled for the amazing opportunity I’d just had. I smiled in gratitude for all the folks who helped make this dream a reality. And I smiled at the thought of this great crew unstrapping from their seats and floating as they start their time on orbit. I can’t wait to watch them as they work through this important and complicated mission. And more importantly, I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Rachel Hobson

Rachel Hobson is a freelance craft writer and editor who is obsessed with hand embroidery and all things geektastic and funny. She has a passion for creating community through crafting. She’s also a huge space geek, and enjoys living five minutes from Houston’s Johnson Space Center where she can get her fill of rockets any time she pleases.


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Comments

  1. volkemon says:

    Well, I cant resist taking pictures of it…the cold affected my battery life greatly, however, and the autofocus was on the blink. :(

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/8886071@N08/

    Not that it EVER becomes ordinary, but your narrative made it even more special. Thanks!

    Dusting off a Flickr account I forgot I had, and will slowly post my shuttle pics from past missions.

  2. volkemon says:

    @Rachel- Posted several more pics of past shuttle launches for you. And a piggyback landing poster I made up.

    Right now they are somewhat disorganized, as I had to learn how ‘the stream’ posts pics…I have grouped them in a ‘set X pic #’ format to keep the launches together.

    I will group and name them by STS number as I figure it out, as I didnt set the date on my camera…D’oH!!!

  3. metphoto.myopenid.com says:

    I cry when ever I watch a launch on TV, from here in the UK.

    The exploration of space is simply the best thing that mankind has ever done. I am immensely jealous of you being able to watch a launch.

    Simply magical.

    Mark
    metphoto.net

  4. Hennemonger says:

    My day came when I got to meet Ellison Onizuka when he came to my school. He told us about following your dreams what being in space was like. I was 7 years old and knew I wanted to be an astronaut right then and there. My head was in the clouds ever since. Though I never became an Astronaut, I did join Air Force as a Space Operator and for 4 of the last 6 launches I’ve been part of the personnel recovery team responsible for finding and bringing the crew home safely if they bail out of the coast of Spain or France. I do the finding part in pinpointing the beacons and relaying the coordinates to the rescuers. It ‘s the single coolest thing I’ve gotten to be a part of in my 13 years in the Air Force and in 24 years as a Space Junkie.
    Anyway I wanted to tell you that reading Rachel in Space took me way back. (That was an awesome Space Camp picture by the way.) Thank You Rachel for making me feel like a kid again.

  5. zombieite says:

    your description immediately brought to mind this essay about the apollo 11 launch.

    http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_apollo11

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