http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/192696

How a Space Shuttle Launch Becomes an Unforgettable and Life Changing Experience

Posted Jun 7, 2007 by Carpenter S. Newton
Tomorrow, NASA will send another shuttle into space. Just another event, you say? I did -- until I went and saw one with my own eyes. Read about how I went from hate to love with NASA. Also: Latest update on the status of Atlantis.
One more day:  Atlantis ready to launch.  Photo:  NASA
One more day: Atlantis ready to launch. Photo: NASA
Carpenter Newton reporting for Digital Journal –– Once upon a time, you couldn’t get me interested in anything dealing with space. For many years, I held the opinion that the U.S. space program was nothing but a joke and big waste of money. My father and I had a running gag that the amount we paid on taxes went to funding a wheel the shuttle used to land. I would rag on NASA for delaying launches if the slightest microscopic thing went wrong. I just had no respect for the space nerds.
But today, I’m filling Digital Journal with reports on the space agency. With one day left until launch of space shuttle Atlantis and Mission STS-117, it’s the only thing I’ve written about in a week. Everybody that knows me can tell I am excited about Friday and thrilled to have another shuttle mission to follow.
Why the 180?
For many years, my uncle and I exchanged a list of things we would like to do together. Although we rarely saw each other, when we did, it was like Christmas. Despite our nearly 40-year age difference, we got along like best friends. One of the things on our list to do was travel to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to see a space shuttle launch.
Last summer, cancer claimed my Grandmother’s life -- a woman that was of great importance to both my uncle and I. From that moment, we set out to accomplish many things on our must-do list, and come December, we loaded his truck and made the trek from North Carolina to Florida to witness space shuttle Discovery blastoff, the first nighttime launch in four years.
Space shuttle Discovery launched December 9  2006.  Photo:  Carpenter Newton
Space shuttle Discovery launched December 9, 2006. Photo: Carpenter Newton
Traveling from North Carolina to Florida by vehicle is quite a journey and frustration quickly set in when NASA scrubbed the planned Thursday evening launch due to some light cloud cover. Friday would be a no-go and Saturday was looking disastrously bad. We had to leave on Sunday and the trip was turning out to be a major bust, but the clouds, showers and wind held out on Saturday and Discovery lit up the Florida coast in spectacular fashion.
If you ever get the opportunity to catch a space shuttle launch, do not hesitate. Day or night, I guarantee it will be one of the most amazing and awe-inspiring events you will ever witness, and you will have an instant lifetime memory of the moment. Knowing there are humans in front of the gigantic fireball growing ever distant is a feeling that has to be experienced in person in order to be fully understood.
Photo: Carpenter Newton
But the biggest thing to happen in changing my mind about NASA took place once I got home. After being there for the launch and feeling part of it, I felt an unrequited loyalty to the mission. Being someone who likes to see everything through to the end, I felt obligated to keeping track and learning as much about what was going on with the space shuttle and International Space Station as possible.
For two straight weeks, I followed nearly every moment of the mission thanks to NASA TV. I watched four spacewalks. I was there for the routine tasks, docking and undocking to the ISS. I even went outside and watched both the shuttle and ISS pass through the night sky -- something anyone can easily do so long as you know the right time and direction to look.
I learned and researched as much about the space program as I could. In short order, I became astoundingly knowledgeable -- quite a feat for someone who previously had no idea what an EVA or solar array could possibly be.
The best part of opening up to NASA had to be the realization that the men and women who board a space shuttle and leave the planet are largely just like you and I: regular folks achieving a dream. You can hear the excitement in their voices as they look at us from above and you can feel it in your own heart when they say “mission accomplished.”
And even if you don’t get as into the program as I did, the shuttle launch is a visual and aural treat for anyone. Couple that with the subtle delicacies of bed covers in Florida hotel rooms:
(Warning: Sunglasses recommended)
Photo: Carpenter Newton (unfortunately...)
Atlantis Ready to Rocket, Weather Forecast Even More Promising
Fuel cells on space shuttle Atlantis were loaded with hydrogen and liquid oxygen last night despite a slight delay due to a thunderstorm that moved through the KSC area.
At this morning’s Countdown Status Briefing, Test Director Steve Payne said there were absolutely no issues and everything is on track for the 7:38 p.m. EDT launch for Friday. “We’re ready to fly tomorrow. We are currently tracking no significant issues on the vehicle,” Payne said.
Increasing the positive outlook is an ever-clearing weather forecast. Shuttle Weather Officer Kathy Winters has lowered the scrub chance to only 20%, saying that any potential afternoon thunderstorms should be well west of KSC before launch time.
In the early morning hours on Friday, the launch pad will be cleared of any non-essential personnel. Atlantis’ once-damaged external fuel tank is slated to begin filling with 500,000 gallons of propellant at 9:30 a.m.
I will have complete coverage of all launch events right here on Digital Journal tomorrow.