Monday, May 25, 2009

Being There For Liftoff

How many children can say that they were at Kennedy Space Center to see a space shuttle launch? Not many, I’d say. As of May 12th, my children could add their names to that short list.

Last fall I bought tickets for us to see a night launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on its way to make repairs on the Hubble telescope. We decided to take my father with us as his birthday present. Unfortunately, there was a delay in the launch due to a malfunction with the Hubble telescope, so we had to wait until the mission was rescheduled. That delay pushed our trip to just a few weeks ago.

I was under the impression that there were “limited” tickets available for the launch viewing area, so I figured that there would only be a few hundred people at the space center to view the launch. We would be able to meander around the Space Center, taking our time at each exhibit. Boy, was I wrong! There were several THOUSAND people there to see the shuttle, not to mention the thousands of others who made the trip to the Cape Canaveral area in hopes of seeing the launch. It was somewhat overwhelming at times, but spectacular nonetheless.

Growing up half of my childhood in Florida, I had seen several launches…some from home, some from school, and one from the beach. Same for Justin. The kids, on the other hand, hadn’t and wouldn’t have that same opportunity, so we were all really excited about the launch. Unfortunately, many of the exhibits were closed, so there weren’t as many things to see as there were the last time we were at Kennedy Space Center. We spent a lot of time waiting to get into the Space Center and then a lot of time waiting in our viewing area to see the shuttle go off.

Because of the volume of people, we decided to secure our viewing location nearly three hours before the launch. The kids did great. We ate a nice picnic lunch and then the adults took turn saving our spot, while the rest of the group went and saw the exhibits that were available. I walked the kids around several times while we waited and saw some “wildlife”…alligators and turtles.

The launch was amazing. From our viewing area, we could see everything. I know the kids were impressed. We watched a power point that showed some of the preparations made before a launch the day before, so when the kids saw the shuttle on the launch pad, they were able to visualize the steps that were taken to get the shuttle to its location. During the following week and a half, we followed the crew’s progress on their telescope repairs.

The experience was definitely an educational experience enjoyed by all. There aren’t any additional improvements planned for the Hubble, so the trip was somewhat special. I’m glad we were able to expose the kids to a wonderful program and bring it close to their hearts.

Here are the launch and landing videos from MSNBC.

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