Friday, May 14, 2010

Seaching for Atlantis

This day has been on my life list since 2001, when Carl was in Daytona for the 24 hour Le Mans style race and randomly happened on a shuttle liftoff while he was in town. His stories lit the fire in me to see one myself. My first attempt was December 2007; the liftoff scrubbed.  Several weeks after I came home, Atlantis, sensors repaired, took off without me.

Last month, Carl reminded me the shuttle program was ending and suggested I get serious if I intended to see one lift off.  So here we are, once again on a mission in Titusville, Florida.

And today, precisely on time, NASA lit the firecrackers and popped off Atlantis without a single hold.
I am incredulous. It happened so fast I hardly registered the facts as they unfolded. Less than a minute later there was nothing but smoke.I wanted a do over! I wanted to see the rockets light again and thirty seconds later feel the rumble in my chest, the sound reaching me across the water so long after takeoff it was afterglow.

I wanted to imagine I was one of the astronauts, strapped in watching the seconds tick down, then feeling the earth shake underneath me as I went from zero to a zillion in 10 seconds.

I wanted to drop the camera, drop the binoculars and use my naked eyes, my nose, my ears. I wanted it slow motion, so I could register the impact of the moment. I wanted to watch it again and again.

I am afraid that I have formed an instant addiction to shuttle launches, and what will I do? Today was bittersweet, knowing the 25 year old Atlantis will never fly again, that soon the crowds will no longer line the edges of Indian River to watch science conquer gravity. Only two more chances to see a liftoff for families like the one from Iowa with their two young sons here on their second attempt, families like the grandparents from Georgia who brought their grandchildren for their fifth attempt, families with tents and coolers and umbrellas arriving hours before the launch for that one minute of wonder as man leaves the earth and disappears.

We all deserve a do over.

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