Over our nearly 20-years of living on The Space Coast, we've had the amazing experience of viewing dozens of shuttle launches up close and personal. For us, this was not a once-in-a-lifetime event, but a thrill lived many times over, and often shared with family and friends. We've viewed launches from the VIP site on the Banana River, from the press viewing stands at KSC, from the beach, from the riverfronts and from our own front yard. If one is honored to be at the VIP site, as we were on many occasions, you travel by NASA bus to the site, several hours prior to launch. We have waited there in the cold chill of a January night. We have waited there in the hot and humid July mid-day sun. You watch the countdown clock. There is always a hold at 9:00 minutes and counting. Are all systems go? The countdown clock begins again. At 3:00 minutes and counting, you'll hear the voices from Mission Control: Go, Go, Go. Your heart beats fast. You want to hear only "go", you never want to hear the word "scrub". Because all it takes is one "scrub" and back to the bus, to return yet another night or day. But return you do, always. For whether it is a nighttime launch, or day ~ whether against the rising sun over the ocean, or against the reflection of a setting sun from the west, each and every launch is spectacular. The engines fire. The smoke rises. The earth shakes beneath your feet. You cover your ears against the sound blasts. Then, lift off. The smoke plume curls up through the sky. Farther and farther it travels, faster and faster it goes. You watch for the separation of the rocket boosters, which fall away and land in the ocean. Safe. Another safe launch. An awesome spectacle, an amazing feat by humankind. We have cheered with a large crowd of young Japanese women when the first female astronaut from Japan rode off into space. On one bus ride back to the center (at 4:00 am, no less), we shared passing bottles of vodka from Russian visitors who had just viewed the first shuttle launch of a Russian cosmonaut joining with our astronauts. We have met people from all over the world, as they come from far and near to experience this. Some had a personal interest in special payloads that were on board the shuttles. I remember two in particular: a young man, a musician, had designed and created a very special guitar -- it would travel on board the shuttle that day, to be played by an astronaut once in space. Could we, as humans, make music in zero gravity? If in future times we were to live in outer space, we would want to have music as part of our lives -- would it be? Could it be? Sadly, I never learned the results of that experiment. Another I recall, was an elementary school teacher from Alabama. Her class one year mailed a Teddy Bear to another class of students in another part of the world. They in turn mailed Teddy on... and on... and on. For many years, through many classes of students, Teddy had traveled the world. Yes, the same Teddy... greeting hundreds and hundreds of students over the years. Now this teacher was retiring, and today Teddy would travel out-of-this-world. His final journey, likely watched and cheered on by thousands of students worldwide who remembered Teddy. Being a part of this over many years has been rewarding. Our space program has brought so much to our everyday lives in the fields of medicine, and technology, and food production, and automotive safety. Many payloads were scientific experiments, many were just to learn "can we make music" or let's honor Teddy. But the list of developments that improve much that we come in contact with each day is endless, and yet few are even aware that all these advancements are a direct result of space exploration and the shuttle program. The one that usually brings a giggle: TANG. Yup, that too, is from the space program. What President Kennedy envisioned many decades ago, came to pass. Now the shuttle program is winding down. Today we anticipate the 39th and final launch of shuttle Discovery, STS 133 with her crew of veteran astronauts. Only one launch remains. It is a sad time for those of us who have watched and been inspired by the years of achievement. It is a sad time for the thousands who were part of the NASA, KSC and the contractor workforce as soon they face an uncertain future. It is a sad time as we pause and remember Challenger and Columbia and the brave souls lost on those flights. To all those who have been a part of space history, we thank you. To Discovery, and her crew, Godspeed.
Update: 4:00 am, 11.3.2010: Launch tentatively postponed to Thursday due
to engine issues; there is a possibility of further postponement to December.