On August 30, 1984 Discovery launched its first mission into space. Since then, Discovery sent into orbit the Hubble Space Telescope and carried astronaut John Glenn, who was 77 in 1998, on a shuttle mission, making him the oldest human to have been in space.
Today, February 24th, at 4:50 p.m., I stepped outside my front door, camera in hand, heart pounding with pride and awe, and watched as the Space Shuttle Discovery launched its final mission. My neighborhood was filled with people looking up, cameras and video recorders in their hands, all of us sharing the experience, each of us realizing the end of the 27-year reign of this remarkable vehicle. Several people in our small community are personally connected to NASA, and one of my neighbor’s dad was uniquely involved in the design of the launch pad.
If you’ve never seen a shuttle launch in person, your time is running out. There are only two missions left in the program. My recollection of a shuttle launch is vivid and profound. Though we’d toured the NASA campus and experienced the exhibits, we missed that launch because of an engine problem. Oh! the crowd was disappointed, as it got to less than eight minutes before they halted, then cancelled, the launch. But we went back, and the next time found a place directly across the river from the pad. I remember first seeing the massive fireball and smoke plume coming from beneath the rockets, then feeling the heart-stopping pressure of the vibration and sound. It took my breath away. I had to cover my ears. I thought the percussion might knock me down. It was one of the most fantastic moments of my life. And as the shuttle disappeared from view, and that took awhile, we looked around at the other spectators and realized there was not one dry eye. It was a very poignant moment.
So I could have watched it on TV, but instead, like others in my neighborhood, I chose to watch it live. Clearly not as dramatic but more meaningful to me, and way more fun.