Living a Dream
By Art Shotwell
I recently had the chance
to live my dream. Well, sort of. For many years, I've really wanted
to see a launch of a Space Shuttle. I mean REALLY wanted to see
a launch. Sure, I've seen 'em on TV, but I knew it wasn't the same
thing as seeing a launch in person.
dream of mine has a history going back to when I was a kid. When
I was in eighth and ninth grades, our family lived in Titusville,
Florida, just a few miles from Cape Canaveral. But, that's not where
it ends. My father, Robert Shotwell, worked in the aerospace industry
for many years. And, when we lived in Titusville, he was a test
conductor on the Atlas missile for Convair, the contractor that
developed the Atlas for the Air Force. When we left Titusville,
we moved to Santa Maria, California, near Vandenberg Air Force Base,
where Dad worked on another missile: the Titan.
But, let's go back to
Titusville of the late '50's. This was when space travel was really
only the dream of a few people. This was years before President
Kennedy promised the U.S. would put a man on the moon by the end
of the '60's. The late '50's was the time of the Vanguard, Atlas
and the Titan. NASA didn't exist yet; missiles were being developed
for the military.
During my two years in
Titusville, I became immersed in space. My friends and I would head
to the beach when we learned of a scheduled missile launch. Or,
on school days, we'd let the teacher know and we'd run outside as
soon as we heard a rumble. A few of us even home-built rockets,
mixing our own black powder and launching rockets from empty lots.
Living near Cape Canaveral is sort of like living in Hollywood.
It's more or less a one-industry town.
So, with this backdrop,
I'd wished and dreamed for recent years of seeing a Space Shuttle
launch in person in Florida. No small feat, as I now live in Northwestern
Washington state. So, last year I set out to plan a trip. I obtained
News Media credentials, thanks to an association with my local newspaper,
the Anacortes American. As my target, I chose flight number STS-101,
a mission to the International Space Station. I've only met two
Astronauts and one of them, Scott Horowitz, is on this flight as
pilot. The only other Astronaut I met, Ellison Onizuka, died in
the Challenger explosion years ago.
I watched the launch
schedules via the Kennedy Space Center Public Affairs Office Web
site, booked a flight and made it to Cape Canaveral for the launch
of STS-101 in mid-April. I arrived very late Friday night for a
Monday afternoon launch.
Saturday, two days before launch, I was so excited, I got up early
and headed out to the Press Center at the Cape (as locals call it).
I took a bus orientation tour, which included a walk through the
Vertical Assembly Building, where the shuttle is mated with it's
booster rockets. The inside of the building is too big for a photo
to make meaningful. We stopped at the launch pad for photos.
On Sunday, the day-before
launch press briefing indicated weather would not be perfect, but
was pretty close. The weather needs to be good not only at Cape
Canaveral, but at emergency landing sites in Spain and Morocco.
Evening: I took the press bus out to the launch site for pictures
of the rollback of part of the service tower with the sun setting
in the background.
is set for 4:32pm, Monday. I went with the other reporters to watch
the Astronauts walk to the van which takes them to the launch pad
about 3 hours before launch. Countdown clock got to down to nine
minutes to launch, but weather is not good at the Cape for an emergency
crosswinds are too high. Launch is scrubbed for 24
hours. Scrubbed is a launch term for postponed.
I'm back the next day
and still ready. Launch is set for 4:17pm. Weather forecast isn't
good for the emergency sites in Spain and Morocco, but NASA decides
to go ahead and try anyway. Launch is scrubbed again
about a half-hour before launch. Again weather is the problem. NASA
didn't really expect the launch to go, but they wanted everyone
Weather forecast is better
for Wednesday with launch set for around 4pm. Same drill as yesterday.
Clock gets down to about nine minutes before launch and it's scrubbed
again. Weather at the Cape is good, but NASA reports the weather
at an emergency landing site in Morocco is just a hair out of range.
Sounds like they were trying to find a way to justify launch anyway.
Next launch date will
be set later. This is the first time NASA has attempted to launch
3 days in a row. I
head back home, disappointed.
A week later, NASA sets
a new launch date for Thursday, May 18. Even before I leave home,
I discover the launch is postponed one day. Too late to change my
plane reservations. I have one of those cheap fares which would
be way too costly to change.
I arrive in the afternoon
two days before launch. Relax.
I check in at the Press
Center the day before launch, which is now set for Friday, May 19.
The pre-launch briefing indicates weather conditions are perfect
everywhere that matters. And, with three earlier attempts, everyone
is confident there won't be any technical glitches to prevent a
I try to sleep Thursday
afternoon and evening because the launch is set for 6:12am on Friday.
I can't sleep...too excited, I guess. I'm up at 2 am and at the
Press Center by 3. I watch the Astronauts get into their van for
the trip to the launch pad. Everything looking great.
The countdown goes past
minus nine minutes. Now I'm getting excited. Photographers start
to get ready. I can't believe I'm going to see a launch. The sky
behind the launch pad is beginning to get light. Sunrise is 15 minutes
6:11:10am, Friday, May 19, the Shuttle Atlantis is launched with
seven crew members. Night turns to day as it lifts off the pad.
I'm three miles away and the sound is deafening. Like a combination
of non-stop fireworks and rumbling which shakes everything. It rises
quickly. In a few seconds, it's in the sunshine and the contrail
turns colors. After a few minutes, it's gone and all over. At the
post-launch briefing, NASA reports the launch went flawlessly.
I saw was fantastic, even thought it was over so soon. The launch
came more than 6 months after I started planning.
While at the Cape, I
talked to other reporters there for the launch. I have 25 years'
experience as a reporter and recognized several familiar names.
Print, television and radio media have been supplemented by Web
producers. Space.com, spaceflightnow.com and other Web sites were
represented. Space.com had 4 producers. In general, the broadcast
and print media are treating Shuttle launches as routine. But, I
think they're still special.
Want to see a movie of
the launch? Click here.
Or, watch a movie of the landing? Click
here. The file is large: about 400k and needs RealPlayer to
view. Download RealPlayer
Centers' Home Page
Kennedy Space Center
Johnson Space Center (Texas)