Saturday, July 09, 2011

The First Space Shuttle Launch April 12, 1981

I had a one year fellowship in Washington DC and we'd planned a trip down the east coast to Disneyworld for the kids for spring break.  My son and I had taken a parent-child workshop for about seven weeks at the Air and Space Museum which had us building a space station.  It was a great class.  Even though J1 was just under their cutoff age, since he wouldn't get another chance the next year, they let us in.

I still remember that first day.  Maybe 15-20 pairs - mostly dads and sons, but a few daughters.  We were in a small museum classroom before opening hours.  The instructor was asking the kids what you would need if you were going into space.  As the kids answered, he made a list on the board.   Then we went downstairs into the museum itself and looked at the display cabinet to see the actual items taken in the first trips to space.  Pretty heady stuff.

By the last session we'd all created model space stations - fortunately I had my son to help me with that since even at that age he understood those things better than I did. 

The very first shuttle launch was originally scheduled for spring 1981.  I don't remember the exact date, but it was early enough that I never considered scheduling our trip to catch it.   But I did joke that if it got delayed enough, we might. 

And then I realized that if we boogied down south a day early, we might just make it.  We drove all night and got to Titusville about 5 am.  It was a carnival atmosphere.  People were all over the place.  We need a word in English to describe the sort of event where lots of people - strangers - are out, together, communally enjoying some great event.  Sort of like going to a college football game, or watching fire works on New Years Eve community celebration.  That's what it was like. 

There was the launch pad, out across the water, as we mingled with the crowd. 

It's that vague box to the right of the reflected rising sun. 

And then came the disappointing announcement echoed over thousands of car and portable radios.  The launch was scrubbed.

Should we stick around or go off to our reservations at Disneyworld?  With two young kids, we drove the short distance to Orlando to visit Mickey and his friends.  But, the next morning (I think, hey, it was 30 years ago - and the NASA site doesn't mention the delays) we were up at dawn, on the balcony, and watched the white streak in the distance as the Columbia made its first successful launch. 

J1 and M on the right
A few days later we were back at Cape Canaveral as it was then known, to tour the Space Center.  This time we were able to get closer to the launch pad. 

So, when the last space shuttle launch took place yesterday, I couldn't help but think of those days in Florida 30 years ago. 

From the NASA website today:

  • Shuttle Crew Completes Inspection, Prepares for Docking

    Sat, 09 Jul 2011 01:49:54 PM PST

    Space shuttle Atlantis’ crew is wrapping up a busy day filled with preparations for Sunday’s docking to the International Space Station and a detailed survey of the shuttle’s heat shield. Video from the survey, which used the Orbiter Boom Sensor System attached to the shuttle robotic arm, has been down linked to Mission Control in Houston, where imagery experts will review it to determine whether the heat shield sustained any damage during Friday’s ascent. Atlantis’ crew goes to sleep at 7:29 p.m. EDT.

    Flight Day 3 begins with crew wake up at 3:29 a.m. Sunday.

  • 1 comment:

    1. I think you are the coolest dad EVER to have done that with J1-- what a fun trip! What great memories you have! I remember watching the first shuttle take off in 6th grade. We thought we'd be colonizing space in our lifetime!


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