Yesterday was one that truly passed the litmus test for being a day of historical proportions. While the nation watched from all over the land via television, perhaps one million Americans traveled to Florida to witness the last flight of the Shuttle program.
The day dawned as any other in Florida and most Floridians did not take notice of anything out of the ordinary. However, for the many who paid a premium to watch this last flight, there was a threat of terrible weather in the Gulf of Mexico moving in the direction of the Cape. This made many worry whether the vehicle would launch. As the many talking heads gave their opinions regarding the probabilities of poor weather or the Shuttle launching, the technicians, scientists, engineers, meteorologists, and others quietly went about their jobs in preparation for the launch.
Many came to the Titusville area early, camping out wherever they could find a place to park. Authorities speculated the normal 45-minute ride from Titusville to the Orlando area after the launch would increase to more than six hours. That was enough to keep some of the locals away from the launch.
To note this as an event of historical magnitude, all one had to do was walk around the area and look at the registration tags of the different cars. They came from Alabama, Texas, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin; they even came from areas in Canada. Everyone watching from along US-1 and the beaches, from north of the station to south, they all knew the significance of this one, last, launch.
The program lasted 30 years and consisted of 135 missions into space. The Shuttle program is arguably the greatest achievement of the human species. To stand near the launch site and to hear the roar of the rockets as they generate seven million pounds of thrust for the liftoff is the event of a lifetime.
If you missed it, I am sorry, you will never have the opportunity to see or hear a launch ever again.
The very first launch I witnessed was the launch of the Challenger. Over the years since, I was fortunate enough to watch many of the other launches. I watched many while flying with students and I actually went out on my own simply to watch a launch.
I remember one time my friends and I were orbiting near the Arthur Dunn Airpark at 5500 feet. At that altitude, you can avoid the Orlando airspace, not talk to a soul, and have a perfect spot for watching the Shuttle launch. On this particular day, we listened to the frequency as some private pilot lost his position and caused a delay. It was an interesting one-way conversation between the controllers and the pilot. The Feds were also kind enough to give the wayward pilot a personal escort into safer skies.
One of the most impressive launches I watched was at 3 a.m. from my front lawn in New Smyrna, FL. My house was about 55 miles north of the Cape, and I wondered if, in the quiet of the early morning, I would be able to hear the roar of the rockets from my lawn.
When the Shuttle launched, I watched a beautiful arcing light as it raced into space. I waited and waited, but there was no sound. As the Shuttle started to disappear over the horizon, I turned to go into the house, muttering under my breath that I was harder of hearing than I thought. Didn’t hear a thing…
Then, as I was about to shut the door, it started. It was not what I expected—it started with the sound of yapping dogs. One by one, dogs throughout the city started barking and I decided they, with their special capabilities of hearing, could hear the sounds of the rockets.
Then, a very low rumble started vibrating through my soul. It was unbelievable! From more than 50 miles away!
There is no question I will miss the Shuttles.
©2011 J. Clark
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