Embracing Nostalgia with Shuttle Launch

Grandparents are the most wonderful gift a kid could have. They offer security parents do, yet they’re more playful than authoritative. In 1981 when I was 11-years-old, my brother, sister and I spent more than two weeks in Sarasota, Fla., with my grandparents. It was during that trip we ate cookies everyday, ice cream every night, played on the beach and were introduced to NASA.

Kennedy Space Center on Florida’s East Coast was one of the attractions our grandparents took us during our Florida summer vacation and I thought it was one of the neatest places, especially since I was a Star Wars fan. I remember touring the Rocket Garden, taking a tour of the complex, eating rubber-like hot dogs (see, even when I was a kid I was a foodie), and watching a demonstration about Space Shuttle tiles.

Me Trying to Look Like an Astronaut, 1981, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Me Trying to Look Like an Astronaut, 1981, Kennedy Space Center, Fla. And yes, this is a Polaroid

I specifically remember a man taking a blowtorch to a tile and seeing it turn orange-hot. He removed the flame, the tile returned to its snow-white state and almost immediately, he touched it with his bare hand. He was demonstrating how quickly the Space Shuttle tiles cooled which is what it needs when re-entering the atmosphere.

Yes, almost 30 years later, I still remember that.

From that point, NASA and the Space Shuttle program have held special places in my heart. I cried in 1986 when the Challenger disaster happened and again in 2003 with the Columbia tragedy but shed tears of happiness with the triumphant return of the shuttle program.

Having been a Florida resident since 1997, seeing a space shuttle launch in person is like visiting Niagara Falls when living in Buffalo. You think it’s always going to be there so you don’t enjoy it as much as you should.

Attempt to See STS-121 Mission in 2006, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
STS-121 Mission, July 1, 2006, Shortly Before Liftoff Mission was Scrubbed, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to see a shuttle launch with the most frustrating being in 2006 when I attempted to see STS-121. It was scrubbed two consecutive days and I didn’t have additional days off to stick around to see the July 4, 2006, launch.

Me and Astronaut Col. John Blaha, June 2006, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Me and Astronaut Col. John Blaha, June 2006, Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

I had the opportunity to dine with astronaut Colonel John Blaha during Kennedy Space Center’s Lunch with an Astronaut program. He’s participated in five space missions and has spent an impressive 161 days in space (I’d be happy with one). I asked him if he ever got jet-lagged and think my question took him off guard.

“No, not if you’re properly trained, there’s no jet-lag,” was his response.

Last year I learned the shuttle program was coming to an end and have decided I need to see a space shuttle launch. My work schedule hasn’t cooperated or when it has, the mission has been scrubbed.

I suppose we can split hairs and say I have seen a launch from a distance. From my Port Charlotte apartment complex and office, I have seen the streak of white smoke disappear into the sky following a launch but I want to be closer. I want to hear it rumble, see it launch and be surrounded by people who are amazed by this feat of man and who will cheer at the accomplishment of sending another crew to space.

2011 is my year to see a space shuttle launch and I hope it’s sooner than later. I’m registering for the NASA Tweetup and hoping I’m selected. At the very least, hope to plant myself over in Cocoa Beach to watch the event.

Only wish my grandparents were still around to share the excitement.

Have you ever attended a launch? What was it like? Please share.



Jennifer A. Huber is an award-winning travel and outdoor blogger and writer in Southwest Florida. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., a hiking trail led her to a career path in the tourism industry for more than 30 years. She spent a decade with a park management company in Yellowstone, Death Valley, and Everglades National Parks. She founded the travel blog, SoloTravelGirl.com with the goal of inspiring others to travel alone, not lonely. The unexpected death of her former husband in 2008 reminded her how short life is. His passing was a catalyst for sharing her experiences with the goal of inspiring and empowering others to travel solo. Jennifer holds a Travel Marketing Professional certification from the Southeast Tourism Society, is a certified food judge, member of the NASA Social community, and alum of the FBI Citizens Academy. When not traveling, she is either in the kitchen, practicing her photography skills, or road tripping with her dog, Radcliff.

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