3…2…1…My First Space Shuttle Liftoff Experience

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Space Shuttle Endeavour Punches the Sky on Final Mission, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour Punches the Sky on Final Mission, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

The dissipating crackling sound of space shuttle Endeavour reaching for the stars back on May 16 is still vivid. Yes, it’s been more than a month since I finally witnessed a space shuttle launch and it’s been a few weeks when I stayed awake to welcome her back on June 1.

Thanks to my iPhone 4, I watched NASA TV and tracked the shuttle’s route. Around 2:20 a.m. I got out of bed in my Southwest Florida home and stood on my lanai waiting for the thunderous sonic bomb of Endeavour passing overhead.

BOOM!

It was loud enough to slightly rattle my windows, startle the cats and be felt in my chest, just as Endeavour’s launch.What a beautiful sound and I’m amazed, having lived in Florida since 1997, it’s the first I heard it.

Here’s what it was like May 16, 2011, for the final launch of space shuttle Endeavour through my eyes as an attendee of NASA Tweetup.

3:15 a.m. Linda and I arrived to the Kennedy Space Center press site and set up chairs along the water’s edge, behind and to the right of the countdown clock.

Tweeting in the Dark at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

Tweeting in the Dark at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

5:15 a.m.-ish, we and the other 80 or so NASA Tweetup participants wandered out to the road to wave to the AstroVan, the vehicle that carries the astronauts to the shuttle. During the first launch attempt, this is when we knew the launch was scrubbed, the AstroVan turned around. Some Tweetup attendees came prepared with signs reading, “No U Turn.”

This May morning, the van stopped in front of the VAB, let some people off and we could see the astronauts WAVING back at us!

Message to STS-134: No U Turn, Kennedy Space Center, May 16, 2011

Message to STS-134: No U Turn, Kennedy Space Center, May 16, 2011

5:45 a.m. Presentation in the media center auditorium about the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPC)-like approach to the International Space Station as part of the Sensor Test for Orion Relative Navigation Risk Mitigation (STORRM). Basically, it’s a docking sensor and a big deal.

Honestly, 5:45 a.m. was too early for a presentation but when it comes to work, NASA personnel adjust to the crew’s schedule so to them, 5:45 a.m. was totally appropriate. What I do remember is Ball Aerospace is the same Ball that manufactures glass jars I use for canning. Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company was founded in 1880 and entered aerospace in the 1950s. I also remember watching via monitor the astronauts getting suited up and in place. STORRM is something NASA has identified as a critical technology needed for future space exploration missions.

Check out the media release about the success of the test on Ball Aerospace’s website.

Early Morning at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

Early Morning at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

6:15 a.m. Headed to the bleachers which had groovy desks and electrical plugins to stay connected via computers and smart phones. Dew settled in and I unplugged my laptop in fear of some sort of electrical mishap. The top row was reserved for NPR. (How cool? I know!)

Sunrise to the Right, Space Shuttle Endeavour to the Left, Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

Sunrise to the Right, Space Shuttle Endeavour to the Left, Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

7 a.m.-ish An incredible, golden sunrise graced us indicating all would be a go. I joined the line of photographers by the lagoon to capture the moment.  A dolphin surfaced every so often during its breakfast. That golden sunrise will forever stay with me.

Jillian, Me and Linda Trying On Layers of Space Walk Gloves, Kennedy Space Center, May 16, 2011

Jillian (@JL_Davis), Me and Linda (@AVWriter) Trying On Layers of Space Walk Gloves, Kennedy Space Center, May 16, 2011

7:30 a.m.-ish NASATweetup attendee (and incredible photographer) Trey encouraged Linda, Jillian and I to visit the NASA press room. Before that, we had to stop and admire the newscaster next to us, Bill Hemmer of Fox who was chatting with Pia Carusone, Chief of Staff for Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is the wife of STS-134 Mission Commander Mark Kelly. Our visit to the press room was cut short when we spotted ABC’s Bob Woodruff. Sadly, we didn’t have the courage to speak with him.

Pia Carusone, Aide for Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Speaks with Fox's Bill Hemmer, Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

Pia Carusone, Chief of Staff for Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Speaks with Fox's Bill Hemmer, Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

We returned to the bleachers and waited.

Linda Sets Her Sights on Endeavour, Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

Linda (@AVWriter) Sets Her Sights on Endeavour, Kennedy Space Center Press Site, May 16, 2011

Around 8:20 a.m.-ish, Linda and I headed out to our front row seats among the camera tripods to watch Endeavour. We met Roger, a photographer from a California paper, who kept the bantering going. As the time ticked toward the 8:46 a.m. launch time, someone would yell out how much closer we were, thanks to an iPhone app.

“Two minutes!”

“One minute!”

“Is this really happening?” I thought. Certainly, the launch will be scrubbed, I reasoned, trying not to set myself up for disappointment.

“10…9…”

We were surrounded by NASA Tweetup attendees and media. We all began to counting down.

“…8…7…”

No, this really can’t be happening, I thought.

“…6…5…”

There’s too much cloud cover for a launch.

“…4…3…”

Holy, cow! It’s going to happen!

“…2…1…”

Grandma would be so proud I’m here!

“Liftoff!”

OMG! Juicy tears rolled down my cheeks as I saw the saw smoke then orange glow. Looking as though it was in slow motion, the orbiter slowly lifted from the tower then shot up into the sky.

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Final Launch, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

Space Shuttle Endeavour's Final Launch, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

There was a delay between seeing rockets’ smoke and hearing Endeavour’s roar. The roar turned into thunder then trickled off as she climbed into the sky. I could feel her roar in my chest and from that moment, I felt fully connected to NASA and the shuttle program. It took me 30 years from that first visit to the Kennedy Space Center to seeing a launch in the flesh or flash, I should say.

Shadow of Endeavour's Trail, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

Shadow of Endeavour's Trail, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

After the launch, we headed back to the bleachers to wait out the traffic. We uploaded and Tweeted out images and video and slowly, our NASA Tweetup friends began leaving. It was over.

J.B. Zimmerman (@jbzimmerman91) Celebrates Following Endeavour's Final Launch, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

NASA Tweetup STS-134 Attendee J.B. Zimmerman (@jbzimmerman91) Celebrates Following Endeavour's Final Launch, Kennedy Space Center, Fla., May 16, 2011

When I left the Kennedy Space Center back in April for the original Endeavour launch day, I felt incomplete. Being able to return for the May 16 launch definitely closed an open loop.

NASA Tweetups Leaving Kennedy Space Center Following Endeavour's Launch, May 16, 2011

NASA Tweetups Leaving Kennedy Space Center Following Endeavour's Launch, May 16, 2011

I WILL be seeing the final launch of the space shuttle program on Friday, July 8, when Atlantis makes the final mission to the International Space Station. I’m doubtful my media credentials will clear(it’s been about a month) but am excited to watch it with others at Space View Park for a non-NASA Tweetup.

Will you be at the final launch?

Author: Solo Travel Girl

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led Jennifer Huber, aka: Solo Travel Girl, to a career path in tourism. She has worked in the tourism industry for more than 20 years including 10 years with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley and Everglades National Park. She currently lives in Southwest Florida, and maintains this travel blog with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely.

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6 Comments

  1. Jennifer,
    Thanks for the great post. It was wonderful to share this experience with you. Thanks for a great day!

  2. I’m so happy to have shared the day with you – AMAZING!!!

    Hope life is good 🙂

  3. I’ll be going in July. Can’t wait. Great preview!

  4. I’m SSSSOOOOOOO excited for you! You’re going to have an amazing experience 🙂

  5. Lived in Florida for 12 years and the only shuttles I got to watch were from the beach in Jacksonville. Will be there tomorrow and wait for the last launch. Can’t wait to see it!

  6. I’ll be there, too. So excited and can’t wait, either!

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