Monday, February 15, 2010

STS-130 - My Side of the Story.

This was the second time I'd been to Florida to see a launch and both times the launch was scrubbed while I was there. Not that this is at all uncommon and is crucial for the safety of the crew and shuttle, I just can't help being a bit bummed in not getting to see it in person... yet.
DK, dad and I boarded a plane from Houston to Tampa with ease on Saturday morning before the launch. Orlando flights were booked solid and flying standby with dad helped with flexibility the closer we got to the launch date. As we walked the jetway off the plane, I felt the beautiful warm Florida air and turned on my phone to find texts from Brandon Heath, our friend NASA Todd and his wife, and Astronaut Shane Kimbrough all excited and hoping for a chance to meet up before heading out to Banana River for the launch. We loaded up in our Jeep and hit the road, stopping at Publix for the best subs EVER.

It took no time at all to find our way to KSC and we noted people already camping out along the causeway for a view of the shuttle, the last scheduled night launch of the shuttle history. The day was beautiful and there was an air of excitement and pride... we rolled into KSC and found our way through the VIP entrance into our checkpoint where we received final instructions. In this room was a live video feed of the shuttle and I stopped in my tracks, losing my breath. It's so hard for me to fathom the effort it takes from these brilliant men and women to make this thing launch and from there, explore space. It's awe-inspiring.

I must have appearred as though I were 5 years old as I bounced up to the lady behind the counter and exclaimed "Hi! My name is Liz! And, and, and today, I'm going to SPACE!" I'm fairly certain that's not what happened, but in my giddy heart and mind, I'm almost sure that's exactly how I came across. It's really a good thing we hadn't been to the gift shop at that point, this scene would have been far more embarrassing with a stuffed space shuttle in my arm and balloons tied to my backpack. We received our bus passes, packets with mission patches and a ton of crew/mission details and also our passes for KSC. We were set. It was about that point an astronaut tapped me on the shoulder and to my surprise there for the first time we got to meet Shane Kimbrough and his buddy Jimmy Dutton. We headed outside into the Rocket Garden to chat with Shane, who is also a KSBJ listener and he filled us in on his launch duties.

To describe it best, Shane is one of the last people on earth to have contact with the crew on the shuttle. He straps them in tight, makes sure everyone is good and ready to go. Shane's been on the other side of this before and knows right where they're at mentally, emotionally and physically. He also shared about having launched before, to now watch a family view their mom or dad launch is an entirely different and surreal experience. We picked his brain for several more minutes and because he was actually pretty busy this day (haha) he took off to get some sleep. We headed to the gift shop. You might not know this about me, but I LIVE for launch merch. (In this photo, you will notice my dad is telling Shane, the ASTRONAUT, how the shuttle bends with the earth on launch.)

From there we headed to the planatarium at a local college for a reception honoring Terry Virts, the pilot for STS-130. He obviously wasn't there but his wife and children were, his aunts, uncles, neighbors, NASA friends and family and more. It was incredible to watch what support this man has and when asked if she was nervous about the launch just hours away, his beautiful wife Stacy shook her head and beamed, "I'm EXCITED."

Since we had such a cool rental car, we tooled around town and ran out to the water but ran right back to the car as it was SO COLD outside. We were trying to stay awake and stay busy as we'd made no hotel plans. The launch was scheduled for 4:39 a.m. EST, we had to be on the bus leaving KSC for Banana River at 1:30 a.m. and our plane left later that morning around 10 a.m. so it was pointless to get a room.

We met up with Todd and Vonda Hellner (aka NASA Todd), our great friends from Houston around 8:30 at a place on the water called Milliken's Reef and ate some delicious fish, dessert and dranks gallons of coffee. Todd was working this launch from the Launch Control Center and had to be at work around midnight. After dinner, we shook hands with Todd in an attempt to be formal and mission-like then headed back to KSC Visitor Center where things were in full swing. We rode the launch simulator and then got in line for the bus to take us to Banana River. As we boarded, we were given "Launch Guest" pins and after placing it on my lapel, it would never leave my coat as long as I live.

We arrived to our viewing location and the wind was howling. It was surreal to walk out to the viewing area and see the huge countdown clocks and in the distance, the shuttle, brilliantly lit, almost glowing. I lost my breath again. We had about 2 hours to go. Inside we met up with Jenny Simmons(Addison Road), Brandon and Vonda.

Dad fell asleep and DK stayed glued to Twitter for the updates. With about 30 minutes to go we got our first negative update from Todd via text. From there it was back and forth, red green red green red green and all because of the cloud coverage. The concern was, in case of emergency landing the crew wouldn't be able to see the runway.

We booked it outside as the clock was on hold at 9 minutes and we prayed, bouncing up and down to stay warm and from pure excitement. We heard the choppers looming above and could hear those who were to make the decision talking back and forth when just. like. that. we heard them say "... and we're just not comfortable with this cloud coverage... something something... 24 hour scrub." My heart sunk. That was it. I had to come home.

Don't I sound selfish? I mean, there were 6 astronauts aboard the shuttle waiting to go to SPACE. I know they're trained and prepared for this, but how must they truly feel? Praise God for wise men and women who make smart decisions protecting and advising all the crews at work.
Considering what a beautiful and full day I'd had, I found I wasn't really all that dissapointed. Just being there, meeting these people and having this experience was truly incredible. Getting to be there with my dad, with DK, with our friends... wow.

I talked to Brandon the next day and he felt terrible for describing to me his experience as he was able to stay on and see this magnifient launch 24 hours later. As we're hanging up he says to me "You know Liz, there's another launch March 18th." Heehee.

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