The Last Launch of Shuttle Discovery - Orlando / Florida Guide
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It took me five attempts to see a shuttle launch. Each time I scheduled a trip, the launch got moved just outside of my time in Florida. Twice I extended my trip to try and catch it but I had no luck… Until now. Ever since I was a young boy, I was fascinated by rockets, shuttles and space. I grew up in the Shuttle era and the world was keen to prolong our time in space. I dreamed of being an astronaut and exploring new worlds. Here I was at Kennedy Space Centre to watch Discovery’s final flight and it almost didn’t feel real.
As thousands of us waited and watched the launch pad, I became more and more nervous that the shuttle mission wouldn’t go ahead. I’d missed it four times before, and I don’t think I could take getting this close and missing it again. The tragedies of Challenger and Columbia flashed through my head but I forced the painful memories away.
The countdown stopped. Houston reported a problem with their computer, and we all held our breath. Thankfully, they managed to fix the problem and the countdown resumed. A group of us, strangers just a few hours before, got together to hold hands and say a little prayer to keep the astronauts safe.
Then, it happened. 5… 4… 3… 2…… 1 “Main Engine Start! ”. I couldn’t believe how bright the flames were, my camera struggled to properly expose the shot. Discovery tore through the sky and reached for the heavens. Nothing had prepared me for the speed of the shuttle – of course, I’d read it was faster than a bullet, but seeing it happen really made me realise how close our sky actually is.
We were watching from the NASA Causeway, 6 miles away, so the sound took about 30 seconds to reach us. The shuttle was already well into the flight as we heard an immense ripping sound that filled our heads and violently shook the ground.
Quick as a flash, it was over and Discovery had punched a hole in the clouds and disappeared towards the stars. As we all packed our things, we were all smiling to ourselves. I wondered if everyone else felt the same way I did. I wondered if they had waited as long as I to see a launch. I wondered if they were as awestruck as I was. Then, in another glance, I got my answer. Everyone was smiling and watching their recordings on cameras, camcorders and phones; children were awestruck and everyone was beaming. For a few minutes at least, through shared experience, we were all one big family.
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