A month ago, I was in Florida to watch the launch of space shuttle Discovery. This week, I was supposed to be in Florida to watch the launch of space shuttle Discovery. Week after next, I was going to be in Florida to watch the launch of space shuttle Discovery… now, in February, I’ll be in Florida to watch the launch of space shuttle Discovery. Well, that’s how the space program works sometimes, right? Better safe than sorry.
I never did write an
epically-long overview of my trip to Florida and the experience of the STS-133 tweetup. Even now, a month later, it’s hard to put it into words. It changed me profoundly. It was wonderful to be there. I can’t remember a time when I was so constantly thrilled and awe-inspired as I was during my days at Kennedy Space Center. Standing inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (looking up, of course) was amazing — the VAB is a cathedral to space exploration. It’s more scaffolding and heavy-lifting cranes than flying buttresses, pointed arches and rib vaulting, but it doesn’t really matter. I have this amazingly boring/exciting photo taken of the space shuttle runway, as we were driving down it. (Sadly, skidmarks are not present in the photo.) That was one of many thrilling things we saw that day.
It’s hard to pick a “favorite thing” I did or saw on the trip. If I say that, the usual response is, “seeing the SHUTTLE, of course!” …which is not untrue, but the VAB is just as much a “favorite” (for different reasons.) I mean, of course the most incredible thing I saw was Discovery on the launch pad. Of course. But I also don’t want to discount the other incredible things I saw — and in a way, the things I saw can’t hold a candle to the most important thing I took back with me, and that was the people I met. I was with them for only a week (some of them, only a day or two), and I miss them all like crazy. Truly, #NASATweetup is a family, and after the emotional storm of highs and lows we all suffered through together, I’m sure we’ll always be close.
The newest delay doesn’t bother me. It gives me more time to talk about my experiences, and the upcoming launch, before I go. I come from a very rural area, far from any sort of space industry. It’s fun to see so many people in my community following Discovery’s launch status, because I was going out there the first time, and now because they know I’m going back for the new launch date. To have people asking, “I heard it got delayed again, but… you’re still GOING, RIGHT???” is a bit surreal (mostly this question comes from my clients), but I appreciate their enthusiasm. If I get even a few people more interested in the space program, or more knowledgeable about the logistics involved (like a series of delays, in order to fully understand the underlying issues), that feels like a victory to me. Even if it’s just a small one.
In my view, the purpose of NASA Tweetups is to inform and inspire a set of people that can turn around and reach others, and pass it on. I’m still very thankful that I was able to go, be inspired, and can now do my best to inspire others. And one of these days, I’ll get to see Discovery launch. In February, this personal quest to see a shuttle launch will be one year in the making. Seems like a perfect time to light the STS-133 candle!