Blasting Off

Apr 27, 2011 by

Just for the hell of it, I signed up through NASA’s website and thought there was no way in hell I’d get picked to see one of the last two shuttle launches – and, even if I did get picked, one of them was scheduled for Passover.  There was definitely no way in hell I’d pass over visiting my grandparents, who I only see once a year now, for the shuttle.  What were the chances? Pretty piddly, I thought.

I checked my email the morning after the sign-up deadline to find that I was one of 150 chosen – out of over 4,000 signees – to view Endeavour’s explosive escape from the earth’s gravity to orbit around the planet.  Surprise! If I’d have known how lucky I’d be, I’d have bought a Powerball ticket, too.

At the time I found out, there was one hitch: Endeavour’s original launch date, the night of April 19th.

My husband looked over my shoulder at the confirmation and exclaimed “That’s great! You can’t go!”

We laughed together.  The Passover seders and the time with extended family absolutely won out…but Dan said, “You know, they change the dates of the launches all the time. Go ahead and register.  See what happens.”

Fair enough but for another problem – the impulse I had to scream this news from the virtual rooftops of Twitter and of the blog I maintain and those to which I contribute had to be held in check.  I didn’t want to start blabbing to brand new Twitter followers headed to Kennedy Space Center that hey, I was going to go to the launch if it was moved – I felt like my place would be instantly revoked if any NASA folks saw that tweet in the stream.  Bitter herbs and matzah over the orbiter built to replace Challenger going up and coming back for the last time?  What kinda space enthusiast are you anyway??? Buh-bye, special pass to the press area.

But it’s a fair question.  I grew up in Houston.  I barely remember all of us in school being herded outside to see Columbia sitting on the back of the 747 taking it to Florida – the plane did a nice circle around the city in tribute to the home of Mission Control and the training ground for the astronauts.  We took occasional school trips to Johnson Space Center and I unfortunately remember them as being kind of boring, initially: NASA didn’t have a flair for making things look pretty or exciting for the tourists.  The small museum on the JSC campus had a lunar lander and a display I nicknamed Space Suits Through The Ages.  It wasn’t until I won the city science fair’s Earth sciences division with a project about crystals and crystal growth that I got a real taste of what lay beyond that first impression.  I also received an award from NASA that had me meeting an astronaut (Pierre Thuot, who served on Endeavour’s first flight), seeing the swimming pool in which the astronauts train in full space suits, and peering into Mission Control.  I’d gone beyond that hall of space suits, and it was pretty damned cool.  It wasn’t long after that that those areas I was only allowed to view for winning a science award were opened to the public.  The nation’s space agency had finally figured it out.

So how did I get from gnawing on my fingernails and worrying about my scheduling conflict being exposed to the world to running off to see this spectacle after all?  I have the Russian Space Agency to thank for that.  The Soyuz launch earlier this month took precedence over Endeavour’s, and instead of having an orbiter that couldn’t dock at the International Space Station because a Soyuz capsule was already there (nyaah nyaah), the STS-134 launch date was pushed to April 29th.

Yes, fine, all you locals know that’s the first weekend of JazzFest.  No, I can’t create a Space Travel JazzFest at KSC – they don’t allow folding chairs or alcoholic beverages, or even bands, in the press area.  But I have to go all the same.

I ask only one thing of all of you…recite the Shepard’s prayer on my behalf as I embark on this long car journey all by my lonesome to Cape Kennedy today…that’s Alan Shepard’s prayer:

Dear Lord, please don’t let me fuck up.


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