Last week I was presented with a photo op that I just couldn’t pass up. After surviving a 17-hour overnight drive and what I shall forever refer to as ‘mosquito Armageddon’ in a muggy, bug-infested swamp, I was rewarded with a front row seat to a historic event.
The launch of STS-135 Atlantis marks the end of NASA’s 30-year Space Shuttle program. For decades Space Shuttle launches at Kennedy Space Center have attracted swarms of tourists from across the globe. Even with a 70% chance of ‘no go’ due to an impending thunderstorm, an estimated 1 million people turned out to witness the final launch on Friday morning.
While sitting in traffic on the way to my group’s vantage point, I noticed a man shooting video of an abandoned shack on the side of the road. As I watched him attempt to cross multiple lanes of traffic I was reminded of the 1981 arcade classic Frogger (Ironically released the same year as the launch of STS-1. Is this the end for Frogger too?). I couldn’t help but wonder if this shack was an omen for the future of local businesses that rely on the consistent influx of launch tourists.
After four hours of camping out through the morning haze an announcement came over the loudspeaker that weather conditions were ‘go’ for a launch. I can only imagine the regret of those who decided not to show up because of the original forecast. As the clock counted down smoke began to billow around Launch Pad 39A and the crowd began to cheer. At 11:29AM the Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off the platform and soared into the sky, disappearing through a heavy cloud cover.
Because of my distance from the actual launch site there was a significant delay in the arrival of sound. I was leaning against a porta-potty when the sound of the rockets finally hit me. I had never felt the walls of a porta-potty vibrate in such a deep and powerful fashion. I’d imagine using one of them during a launch would be pretty epic.
What was the coolest thing about the final Space Shuttle mission? Learning that Chumbawamba’s 90′s hit “Tubthumping” was played as the crew’s wake-up song on Day 4 for mission specialist Sandy Magnus. Rock on, Sandy. Rock on.