Yesterday as I was in line at airport security, my friend Eric in Florida called to tell me a shuttle launch was scheduled for 5:01 EDT, about the time I would be arriving at his house in Melbourne. He suggested I go to Cocoa Beach and try to catch it. I was absolutely giddy because I’d never seen one in person.
It all started on April 12, 1981 in Ms. Stanfill’s second grade class. I was seven years old. She stopped class and allowed us to watch the first space shuttle launch, the Columbia, on a little 13″ black and white TV she had brought from home. Wow, the thunder and roar! I was in awe!
In 1983, my parents took me to visit my aunt in Titusville. Of course, I had to visit Disney World, but the main reason I wanted to be there? Kennedy Space Center. My aunt’s (now previous) husband Rick worked there. I even still have the old shuttle mission manual he gave me.
On January 26, 1986, I was at home from school due to snow. I still have the video tape of footage from that day. It was the day 7 astronauts “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”
I dreamed of working for NASA and even flying the shuttle and going into space. And as media interest waned in the space program, mine did as well. But it never left me the same. It steered me to science, engineering, technology and computers. And maybe it even planted in me the seeds of exploration and adventure.
Everything had to go perfect for me to get to the beach in time. The plane had to arrive on time. Baggage had to be there on time. Rental car process had to go smoothly. It did.
Traffic was absolutely atrocious on the Beeline and I thought I wouldn’t make it. I passed the last chance to park before getting on the causeway with 3 minutes left. Traffic creeped up the causeway. I knew I was done for. And at 5:00PM EDT, traffic stopped above the Indian River with me at the causeway pinnacle. I’m not sure I could have had a much better vantage point if I’d parked. I looked out the window and saw the launch pad light up. And suddenly I remembered why I studied so hard and why I went to engineering school. And I remembered just how easily and how far I’ve let myself stray from my dreams.
About a minute later, the thundering sound reached me. For just a brief moment, I was a seven year old little boy again.