Lee and I have a great relationship because we share a mutual passion for various things. In addition to our love for music, electronics and sharing time with friends, we also have an affinity for living our lives with a sense of adventure. There is something totally fulfilling about being able to just shrug your shoulders ans say, "Let's go. Let's do it."
So was the case Monday afternoon when we both ditched work a little early and drove from Tampa to Cape Canaveral in our hope to watch the Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space. STS-128 and it's mission to carry supplies to the International Space Station was scheduled to blast off from Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 39-A at 01:36 ET the morning of August 25, and it was our goal to be there, up close and personal, to experience it.
We were fortunate enough to be able to purchase tickets to the causeway viewing area near KSC. We new traffic would be bad which is why we made the decision to leave early and head East to Florida's space coast. I am happy to admit we did not encounter any traffic problems getting to KSC, and we were quite early in arriving which left us with some time to kill at the space center.
After enjoying an amazingly riveting IMAX movie about the International Space Station, Lee and I proceeded to spend the next 90 minutes or so in line after line after line as we waited for the buses that would transport us to the causeway viewing center to arrive. It was 9:45 PM, it was a hot, August evening, and we still nearly four hours left before the event that would take our breath away.
As with most things that require you to stand and wait in line for extended periods of time (think Disney), the waiting and queuing came with its share of frustrations and aggravation. They were mostly brought on by the other people in line who were either too busy complaining about the wait and the process or were too clueless to have remembered to put on deodorant earlier in the day. Nonetheless, it was all part of the experience of witnessing history and continued progress in mankind's exploration of space.
After a relatively short bus ride over to the causeway, Lee and I found a perfect spot to set up our 'camp' – we each had folding camping chairs – and wait the three hours until launch. There in the distance, a mere three miles from where we sat, was the space shuttle Discovery, prepped and ready to force itself away from earth with over 7 million pounds of thrust. It was amazing to see it sitting there under the lights. It was awe inspiring.
We knew the lightning in the distance would be a problem. Lee and I had been checking our Black Berry's periodically, following both @NASA and @ExploreSpaceKSC on Twitter for up to the minute statuses on the launch preparation. The voice over the PA system confirmed there were no technical issues with the shuttle and the weather was the only item for concern. As we approached ninety minutes to launch, all weather parameters were in condition 'Red', and it was not looking good. Still, the approximately ten thousand people gathered on the strip of causeway three miles south of the launch pad remained optimistic the thunderstorms in the area would quickly pass.
As we reached forty-five minutes to launch, there was word the weather in the area was dissipating. The tweets from various sources following the launch came fast and furious, as did my status updates to Facebook and Twitter. It was on. This was going to happen. Lee and I were going to watch a shuttle launch. FINALLY!
The next half hour zoomed by. It was 1:15 in the morning and the energy level along the causeway was palpable. It felt like the last thirty seconds of a close Super Bowl or the bottom of the ninth in a tight World Series game 7, only more electric. There, off in the distance, seven astronauts had been waiting for hours while strapped into their seats, and we were minutes away from watching them take off into the night sky.
The voices on the PA continued with their final system checks as the countdown continued. On voice called out a series of acronyms, followed by another voice with an affirmative and responsive, "Check!" System after system, check after check. "Here we go" I thought. "This is going to be amazing."
The voice that was supposed to respond with a loud and affirmative confirmation was instead replaced with a very hesitant pause. No one on the ground said a word.
With a sense of painful deliberateness, the responding voice almost quivered as you heard him say, "We really tried to push this as far as we could, but we are no-go for launch." My heart sank, as did those of the other ten-thousand spectators there. We were so close. So close.
And just like that, the launch of STS-128 for 08/25 was scrubbed, and with it, Lee's and my hopes of watching a live shuttle launch. With only a handful of STS mission on NASA's schedule before the program is retired, this was our one window of opportunity. Although it was feasible for us to return the following evening and try again, the nearly three hour drive and overall lack of sleep would simply not be a prudent thing to do. It was bad enough we did not get back home to Tampa until 5:30 AM. To try and duplicate that experience two nights in a row would be reckless and irresponsible.
Even though the level of disappointment weighs heavy on us, it was still an adventure Lee and I were able to share together. We pray for a successful and safe launch the morning of the 26th, and Lee and I will step out into our lanai at 01:11 to hopefully see the flame trail in the distance left by Discovery taking off into space.