On May 15th, 2011, I had the privilege of watching my first and last shuttle launch from Kar Park, a little known viewing site adjacent to the launch pad. As the second-to-last flight, the Endeavour, soared off from the Space Coast, my skin crawled and I was thrilled to be an American and a part of history. Check that off my bucket list, I thought as I smiled.
Getting to the park was easier than I had anticipated. This was in part because the original launch date was delayed for three weeks. Those that had waited weeks prior did not witness the Endeavour‘s last journey and most would not return because of the uncertain nature of actual lift-off, due to Florida’s unpredictable weather and unforseen technical difficulties.
Previously, my husband and I were on our way to Cape Canaveral and then turned around half way after I checked my iPhone for updates and realized it was canceled. No big deal since we lived only a few hours from the Cape. When we returned for the real thing weeks later, we stayed over night and made a mini vacation out of it.
There was enough traffic to build my excitement, but not enough to create anxiety of possibly missing the launch, given we only gave ourselves a half hour to get to the park. According to the countdown we had 10 minutes until lift-off. Just enough time to find our spot and let my dog sniff around.
I eagerly watched the large clock and listened to the countdown. Three, two, one… A smoky trail appeared, then the ground shook and a loud rumble followed. We watched the shuttle climb into the clouds until it disappeared. It was only 10 seconds of excitement but one that I will always remember.
The last launch of NASA’s space shuttle program is scheduled tomorrow, June 8th, with Space Shuttle Atlantis. It may or may not happen on time, however, it is worth the wait. It’s the last chance to experience such a wonderful part of our history.