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.