For our one year anniversary (dating… not married. We had the ‘go big or go home’ mentality for some reason. A card wasn’t enough) I bought launch tickets to watch the space shuttle Discovery take off into outer space from a causeway near Kennedy Space Center - the closest we “regular” people could get (6 miles away from the launch pad). The tickets were hard to come by… and sold out in mere minutes. The package where you also got breakfast with an astronaut was the quickest to sell and I got two of those tickets. I was proud of myself. Tim had never seen a shuttle launch OR had breakfast with an astronaut. Score one for me in the win column.
The shuttle was supposed to launch in early summer. We drove down, happy and exctied the entire 10 hour trip. We’d been waiting for months – I gave him the gift on our date-a-versary in September. When we got to Cape Canaveral, alarms should have started going off when we realized I had booked the hotel from hell.
It was dirty and old and the air conditioner pumped humidity. You could almost see little white puffs squeezing out of the vent and exploding into full blown clouds that slunk throughout the room. This in the middle of a Florida summer is not enjoyable. At least there was a breeze outside - and don’t think we didn’t consider it. Sadly, the bed wouldn’t fit through the door.
We rearranged the entire room and butted the bed right up next to the little machine. It didn’t matter. We ripped off everything but the sheet attached to the bed and spread all limbs as far apart as possible. No difference. We took a shower, thinking it would help cool us off. Another failed idea due to #1: the cold water was luke warm and #2: heat + liquid = humidity. We basically created a rain forest in our room.
We woke up drenched, but it didn’t dampen our spirits (only because we knew we wouldn’t be going back there…we checked out first thing and found a nicer, cooler hotel a few miles down the road). We got ready and left before the sun came up. We wanted to get to Kennedy Space Center as soon as we possibly could.
The sky was a cloudless blue and the space center was bustling with activity. The breakfast didn’t start until around 10:30am and by that point we were famished. We barely resisted the urge to bowl over small children and shove through the endless sea of people to the front of the line to start cramming anything and everything into our mouth. Restraining our carnal urge paid off. We ended up at a table right in front, next to the stage where the astronaut would be speaking. Our breakfast was full of the inside scoop of outer space. Tim wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up and he was in his own little heaven. His dream wasn’t one of those “I want to be a fireman!” kind of thing. He followed it through all the way to grad school, majoring in Applied Physics and getting his Masters in Mechanical Engineering. Then, he found out where he would have to live. That pretty much put an end to that. He doesn’t like hot places or flat places…and that is where a lot of the training happens.
We finished up breakfast and toured the facility, waiting for the go-ahead from the facility to jump on the buses to take us out to the causeway. The moment finally arrived and we were like two giddy little kids all the way out. We hustled off the bus and set up our lawn chairs…. and waited…..
To make a long, boring few hours and months short: the launch didn’t happen on that first day. It didn’t happen the second day, either. It was scrubbed due to “weather” safety issues. We ended up having to drive home after about five days of watching the NASA channel in the hotel and hoping they’d schedule another launch. They didn’t. We were scheduled to run in the Peachtree Road Race on the 4th of July. And wouldn’t you know it – it launched that day.
I managed to get my hands on launch tickets two more times. And we drove down to Florida twice more. The second trip down we had to leave because of an approaching hurricane and after the third time we went down, we didn’t need directions. We knew which roads to take to avoid the traffic in the town. We had our favorite eatery (Kelsey’s Pizza – great calzones), our hotel of choice practically knew us by name and I proudly held the new high score on an arcade basketball game in their game room. We knew how to get the inside scoop on how and when to get more tickets if the launch was scrubbed - for, you see, once you step foot on that bus your ticket is null and void – regardless if the shuttle launches or not. The organization of how and when and where to get new tickets from NASA is still a bit of a mystery. In our early, naïve days, we waited in our car near the space center early in the morning, trying to figure out when it would open so we would be first in line. Suffice it to say Tim almost ended up in cuffs sitting in a different kind of car…the police take their job very seriously – especially if a launch is imminent – so don’t just be “sitting around” anywhere and don’t say anything other than “Yes, we’re leaving. Pronto.” Tim’s attempt at explaining why we were waiting for the center to open and asking why we had to move… did not go over so well. After that, we were convinced my license plate number was on a government agency black list. For months after that incident I was sure any cop that got behind me was going to pull me over and arrest me for having a parked car on property that wasn’t mine.
Finally on our FIFTH attempt it launched. Though we spent tons of money and eons of time – it was worth it. When the countdown started the causeway went silent. Once the boosters and engines fired up, the entire ground shook and when the shuttle was airborne, the sight was nothing less than spectacular. It was something we will never forget. However, we’ll never forget because we were bound and determined to see a launch…and we didn’t stop trying until we finally did, three months later.
Either way, I don’t think we’ll be going down to see another launch any time soon unless it is a fluke occurrence. Something like, when we’re driving and I happen to look to the sky and see something and say, ”Hey Honey! Look! There’s a spaceship!”
One time – on purpose – was enough.