Okay the COOLEST thing happened while we were here in Florida this week. Yes, it justifies my use of all caps and yes, I still use the word "cool" it's just who I am--a child of the 80s (that and I can't bring myself to say "bomb" or "dope" instead).
We visited Kennedy Space Center last Saturday which is something I've always thought would be fun to do. Maybe it's because I grew up with America's space program--I vividly remember the first space shuttle launch then later sitting in English class glued to the television watching the Challenger explode. So regardless of their whines Andrew and I dragged our less-enthusiastic children over to Cape Canaveral (or as we lovingly refer to it, Cape Evel Canaveral--an hour in the car can be a LONG time with four children and we get our kicks where we can) to get them a bit of cultural heritage.
As I waited for Andrew to park the car I spoke with a guard who told me it was a bit busier that day due to the impending launch. THE LAUNCH?? What launch? There's going to be a launch? When? Where? OH MY GOODNESS! Yes, she thought she'd found her nut for the day I'm sure ("Uh, Bob, can you get Security over here? We've got another Class Four Space Freak here . . . ") I can assure you the only thing more exciting than a shuttle launch would be getting to ride in the shuttle with the entire cast of Star Wars. Yes, that freak flag of mine is waving proudly.
I hadn't even bothered checking launch times during our travel plans because really now, what are the odds? Apparently better than average because sure enough the launch was scheduled for Tuesday morning--our last day in Orlando--at 2:28am. Who cares what time, we would be there. She warned us that night launches are particularly spectacular and we heard her words but were so excited we didn't really pay much attention.
Anyway, KSC was a fun tour. There is a new ride/exhibit that simulates a space shuttle launch where you tilt back like the astronauts do while waiting for take off and you get the roar and the rumblings and the "twang" (no, not Tang, we're talking the slight wavering shift of the shuttle just before ignition).
While you're waiting for your turn in the simulator there are video screens where you see clips from various astronauts speaking about what they had felt during launch. Really, it was some-thing! I was riveted and couldn't help thinking how normal they all looked, you'd never pick any of them out of a crowd but here they'd been to space. To space, people! What struck me was one man describing his view of the earth from orbit and commenting that he wanted to look away at first, feeling as if he was seeing something that was reserved for God's eyes only. I admit I teared up a bit.
Anyway, the simulator was great and after all the talk about what to expect during launch I was ready to see the real thing. Monday night at 10 pm we stole the blankets and pillows from our hotel room and packed everyone into the minivan and drove up to the Cape. We found a good spot along the beach in Titusville where we had a straight view of the launch pad from across the river--probably ten miles away--and put everyone to sleep in the car to wait until 2 am for the action. The closest you can get is six miles from the launch pad. They say that at 40 feet from launch the heat will kill you, at 400 feet the sound will kill you and at 4000 feet the alligators who don't like the rumblings will grumpily kill you out of spite for being disturbed in their beauty sleep.
When the kids woke up they were pretty grumpy themselves. Spencer wanted to know if anyone would mind if he used the nearby bushes for his personal bathroom issues (I assured him that would not win him any points with the locals and would assure Death Most Painful). The place was swarming, I mean SWARMING with people, there were thousands wandering around the beach and onto the docks and all along the streets, you'd have never believed it was 2 am.
You could see the launch pad all lit up and at 2:28 exactly the engines ignited. The guard at NASA had told us it would be like a fast sunrise and that's what it was, a ball as big as the sun launching into the sky lighting up the world like it was dawn. Straight up and into the clouds hovering above.
But after it disappeared into the clouds the crowds around us went silent. You see, the launch is far enough away that you see it before you hear it because sound travels so much slower than light. After the shuttle disappeared the ground slowly began to rumble, growing into a quaking grumble and roar as the sound waves finally reached us and the crowd was completely silent as we listened to the ghostly sounds of the shuttle that had already disappeared into the clouds above. Thirty seconds, forty seconds, maybe a minute it growled and groaned and the crowd held its breath until all was silent again. Then we cheered.
You can see for yourself below, but I'd recommend listening to it with headphones on. The regular speakers don't pick up the sound well but you can hear it if you use headphones.
Oh and a final note: here's a clip of me in the G-force simulator (which is worth watching just for Andrew's endearingly goofy commentary). They strap you in, crank up the engine and you get four G's over the course of a few minutes. It simulates a ride in an F-15 fighter jet and though you're traveling sideways you feel as if you're going forward. I'm normally pretty steady with those kinds of things but when the ship did a simulated roll I quickity split grabbed for my little paper bag and got ready to shamelessly hurl my cookies. I came out stumbling and pretty nauseous but what a great ride!
Technorati tags: space shuttle, NASA Endeavor