Tuesday, June 17, 2008

From the Archives | NASA really can put on a show

The view of space shuttle Discovery from south Cocoa Beach on Oct. 23. It was my first launch.

I was digging into the pre-Offlede photo archives when I came across some shots of the first shuttle launch I witnessed.

It was Oct. 23, and Discovery was set to launch at 11:38 a.m. I was living on the beach in Cocoa Beach, which isn't far from Kennedy Space Center, but I was too lazy to get out of bed and get closer to the launch pad for the liftoff.

Instead, I rolled out of bed 10 minutes before the launch and walked across the street to the beach, armed with my camera, and waited for the thing to head into space.

Being a rookie shuttle gawker, I didn't know what to expect. I was looking about five miles to the east of the actual launch pad when I saw the glow of the rocket boosters.

I hadn't expected such a cool sight or sound. The rockets glared, and the engines blared. (Incidentally, this Saturday, I heard the double boom of the shuttle during re-entry for the first time. In fact, it woke me up around 11:13 a.m.)

Discovery's STS-120 mission delivered the Harmony module to the International Space Station. (Yes, I do believe FLORIDA TODAY capitalized on that great opportunity for word play and used "Launch Harmony" or something similar for the headline.)

I'm glad I don't live in Cocoa Beach anymore: The apartment was a dump. (Incidentally, I may have to find a new apartment soon if this house I'm in now garners any interest on the real estate market.) But I do miss walking across the street to watch one of the greatest shows on Earth.

Since my first launch, I will never make such a lackadaisical effort to view a shuttle launch. I can't wait for the next one, which should be early in the morning on Oct. 8. I'm returning from vacation in San Francisco and Napa Valley late on Oct. 7, so a glorious evening launch will be a great way to cap a great break from work.

I lived in the old Baptist church in Cocoa Beach, which was converted into apartments. And of course, the old church is next to the new church. But the predecessor of that steeple you see in front of Discovery's trail fell during Hurricane Frances in 2004.

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