The Day I Saw A Space Shuttle Launch

At 2:20 pm on May 14th, 2010, the quiet Floridian afternoon was shattered by an adrenaline pounding roar and blast of flames. Three minutes later, all was silent again. Only a Crooked and Squiggly Line of Delicate white smoke across the sky was left to prove the awe-inspiring event wasn’t a dream.

Atlantis 13I had just achieved what remains my biggest Bucket List accomplishment to date: witnessing the launch of a Space Shuttle with my own two eyes. This is the story of how it happened…

From the moment I first learned of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, I knew I had to get there someday. When my wish finally came true, in March, 2008, it was doubly special… because the Space Shuttle Endeavour was sitting on the pad, ready to fly.

Space Shuttle Endeavour ready for launch (March, 2008)

Space Shuttle Endeavour ready for launch (March, 2008)

Me, Rich and Sue with Endeavour

Me, Rich and Sue with Endeavour

Although tempted, we simply couldn’t extend our trip on that occasion. So by the time Endeavour blasted off on Mission STS 123 the following evening, Rich, Bisckits and I had to be content watching on NASA’s website from our hotel room in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Not long afterwards, we learned that the Shuttle program was being cancelled. And with the disappointment of missing Endeavour’s launch by such a small margin still fresh in our memories, we made ourselves a promise. We vowed we’d make it back to Cape Canaveral to witness a Shuttle launch firsthand. Before it was too late.

And on Friday May 14th, 2010, we kept this promise.

We were collected by bus from our Orlando hotel before dawn, and ferried to the Kennedy Space Center. There we boarded a second bus, out to the NASA Causeway. Although still six miles from the launch pad, the Causeway was the closest point from which members of the public could watch a Space Shuttle launch. We arrived there almost three hours before blast off, which gave Rich and Sue plenty of opportunity to work on a wicked case of sunburn (although that’s another story).

If you look carefully, you can see Atlantis on the horizon over my left shoulder

If you look carefully, you can see Atlantis on the horizon over my left shoulder

From our viewpoint, for a second time in just over two years, I could see a Space Shuttle ready on the launch pad. On this occasion it was the Atlantis, ready for what (we all believed at that time) was to be her final flight, STS 132. The difference was that this time, if all went to plan, I’d actually get to see the launch.

We’ve all experienced how slowly time passes when waiting for something special to happen. So I expected the hours, minutes and seconds to creep past. Yet, with so many people – mostly strangers – excitedly discussing what was about to happen, the time actually flew by.

The famous countdown clock

The famous countdown clock

Before I knew it, there were only 20 minutes left until the scheduled launch time. Then there were just 20 seconds!

As the famous countdown clock continued relentlessly towards zero, we all crossed our fingers, hoping there’d be no last moment delays.

Atlantis 1Suddenly, bright orange flames sprang from beneath Atlantis, followed instantly by a plume of brilliant white smoke.

Atlantis 2A few moments later, the booming roar of the Shuttle’s engines reached us, but by then she was already being engulfed in a cloud of smoke that glowed orange from within.

For a second or two Atlantis disappeared entirely.

Atlantis 4Then the nose of the spacecraft slowly emerged from the billowing smoke, and she began to climb skyward. It was 2:20 pm EST. And Atlantis was on her way, right on time.

Atlantis 5As the Shuttle slowly cleared the top of the launch gantry, the flames from her engines re-emerged from the exhaust cloud. Even from six miles away, on a bright Floridian afternoon, the glow was almost too intense to look at. The orange inferno burning nearly white.

Atlantis 7Then someone must have released the emergency brake. Because the Shuttle’s journey skyward seemed to change from a ponderous climb out of the place of her fiery birth, into a joyful leap towards the heavens.

Atlantis rose on a pillar of flame and smoke, her engines crackling like a giant’s breakfast cereal. It was as if all her immense weight dropped away as she accelerated upwards into the clear blue sky. To infinity and beyond.

Atlantis 10Atlantis 11Atlantis 12In the blink of an eye, two and half minutes had passed and Atlantis was out of sight. All that was left was that Crooked and Squiggly Line of Delicate, pure white smoke, strung out across the perfect blue sky.

We all closed our open mouths, which had dropped open during the launch. Some people immediately turned to each other, bursting into a breathless recap of what we’d seen. Others continued to stare into the sky, silent and awestruck.

My brother, Bisckits, had a single tear rolling down his face, and he wasn’t alone. We were all aware we’d just witnessed something close to miraculous. After all, there were people on that thing. People who were sitting down here on Earth with us just a few minutes ago, and were now on the edge of space.

Over four years later, I still feel the emotions welling up just thinking about that day. It was an amazing experience. Unique. One I’ll never forget. A dream come true.

With the current state of the American spaceflight program, who knows when I’ll get the chance to see something like that again?

But Atlantis herself actual got to fly one more time. An extra mission (STS 135) to round off the Shuttle program and construction of the International Space Station in July, 2011. For those who are interested, Rich wrote a guest blog, End of an Era, here on Jaspa’s Journal as together we watched Atlantis, the final Space Shuttle, land for the very last time.

IMG_0342This post was inspired by the themes Crooked and Squiggly Lines (from Cee of Cee’s Photography) and Delicate (from Sue of A Word in Your Ear). It’s based on an article I originally wrote as a featured blogger on Bucket List Publication in 2013.

While you’re astounded by the brilliance and bravery of human spaceflight, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal, or through my websiteFacebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And if that’s not enough for you, there are now three Jaspa’s Journey novels to enjoy as ebooks! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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About Jaspa

Jaspa's Journey is a series of award-winning, travel-based adventure novels for strong middle grade readers by Rich Meyrick. Join the Adventure! Read the books! Follow Jaspa’s ongoing Journeys at Let's explore this amazing world together! And don’t forget to download the books and see what the buzz is all about!
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8 Responses to The Day I Saw A Space Shuttle Launch

  1. Cee Neuner says:

    Oh that had to be totally awesome!!! Fabulous! Thanks for squiggling with the shuttle.

  2. Pingback: Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Crooked and Squiggly Lines | Nola Roots, Texas Heart

  3. Pingback: Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge-Crooked-Squiggly-Lines | WoollyMuses

  4. joannesisco says:

    Awesome … in the truest sense of the word. Watching a shuttle launch was on my TO-DO list forever, but I could never make it happen. I really enjoyed reading about your experience and the photos were great!!

  5. cyardin says:

    Awesome! Hopefully the next time we all get the opportunity to see something this epic will be for destination Mars.

  6. Pingback: The Very Large Array (VLA), New Mexico | Jaspa's Journal

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