Below me, the ground rumbled.
Above me, the sun burned.
Before me, a fireball rocketed the space shuttle Discovery skyward.
The fireball’s flash of light came instantaneously,. But, sound travels much slower at ‘only’ 1100 feet per second.
I stood a mere mile from the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Delay had been the morning’s buzzword.
As the shuttle shot into the atmosphere, I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and waited.
Ears begged to hear what eyes saw.
Silence answered, round two.
Re-living this event from March 13, 1989, I remember it as a Life Highlight. Third on my list, after meeting DH (#1) then marrying him (#2).
Discovery’s launch memory soars partly as a rebel’s reaction. It’s been a windy build-up to this week’s Apollo 11 anniversary.
Houston, where I live, is celebrating the Big 5–0, too. First word spoken on the moon, after all, came courtesy of us. It’s beyond mere space travel. It’s jobs, lives, friends, and families. Plus, we answered a presidential call.
Conjoin a Miami business trip with radio reporting gig. Our respective stations said yes.
We launched, neither of us prepared for the overwhelm.
On launch morning, we encountered an unexpected geomagnetic storm then extended launch delays. To Kennedy’s Visitor Center, we went. Pent-up energy needed a new home. We played astronaut. We reread mission manuals. We interviewed other reporters.
Anything to relieve nerves that multiplied. Minutes morphed into hours.
Underlying the emotions were tough memories. The space shuttle Challenger had blown up two missions before.
Many of us at the cape that March morning had worked the Challenger tragedy in some capacity.
We were space junkies. Our press passes provided sensational seats to the shuttle ride. But, three years earlier, we’d learned those seats can hurt.
Still, we gathered again, some in the media grandstand and others along the camera riser. Ahead of us, at the horizon, stood the shuttle launch pad, heating up. To the upper right, do you recognize the iconic mission countdown clock?
Nine minutes to launch, we reporters settled down. It’s our ride, too, a journey of sensory overload magnified and delayed by pressure and sound waves. Physics I still don’t understand.
Finally, Discovery launches.
I eyeball the countdown clock and begin to pray. Under my breath, my mantra becomes “please get us past “Go to throttle up.’ ” Those became NASA’s last words before Challenger exploded.
As I pray, the ground rumbles as if a thousand trains are heading our way. The roar booms, threatening to raise us all up. I cup my ears. Teeth chatter, toes digging into floorboards. Where’s terra firma?
The winds arrive next, engulfing us in sensations that collide like shipwrecks, stacking one atop another. I brace my feet, clasp my desk space with both hands. My shirt billows in and out against my chest and stomach. The hair on my arms jerks to standing as my head curls vanish.
As quickly, it’s 75 seconds, we’re past go to throttle up and now, it’s all a memory. Giddy with overwhelm, I reach for my pocket camera, hands shaking. The professional must transcend the personal.
After the camera’s film is developed, I spot the blackbird flying close to the space shuttle
How did she survive Discovery’s launch?
Later I realize the bird was probably flying as far from the launch pad as where I was standing.
Isn’t that why we journey? To feel and to see?