LRO LaunchWow…that’s the first word that popped into my head as I watched the LRO/LCROSS mission take off late Thursday afternoon.  What a moment, and how honored I felt to be sharing that moment with people connected with the project and their friends and family.  It was certainly an eventful on the edge of your seat kind of moment, not sure if the launch was going to happen or not.  The clouds started moving in, I felt some sprinkles, and they said there was lightning in the area.  STOP, we can’t launch, we are putting this on hold.  Eeeek!  In my mind I was telling myself that it was ok, I had had a wonderful experience, met lots of new people had felt the energy of those waiting for the launch I could go home and still be happy.

Then the announcement came that they were going to try for the last window of opportunity at 5:32 if the launch did not go, then it would be pushed to Friday.  Not a big deal, unless you are scheduled to leave on a plane Thursday night.   Twenty odd minutes to wait, and the dark clouds were not going away.  The collective anticipation of those sitting in the bleachers, and lined up at the fence with cameras and binoculars created such a hum of excitement.  You could feel it go through you like an electrical current.

And then, they announced that the launch was a go.  I really had a tough time choking back the emotion, not sure why. Maybe it was the joy of being there with a group of people that had been involved with this mission from the beginning, that their moment was about to happen.  As they went down the list and each area of the mission checked in with a loud “GO” things started going a bit crazy.  This was really going to happen.

A break in the action to sing the Star Spangled Banner prior to the launch, good grief I’m not sure I knew my name at that point, let alone the words of the Star Spangled Banner to actually sing it.  Yet I stood, and numbly looked around for a flag and mumbled a few lines of the song.  Forgive me forefathers, normally I am a hand over my heart kind of person, but on this particular day I was sorta out of it. 

When the rocket shot up in the air, time seemed to move forward at warp speed.  I snapped a photo with my camera phone and still could not believe I was really there, really seeing this launch.  As a child, I can remember those first steps on the moon.  I was at Billy and David Eggleston’s house watching them bouncing around on the moon from a black and white console television.  For us, this rockets going into space thing was a very big deal.  You know what? It’s still a really big deal to me, even more so now that I know how enormous those rockets are. 

In just a few seconds, the rocket was enveloped in clouds and out of view, but that is when the noise began and you could hear the rocket climbing even higher into the sky.  What a moment.  There were lots of cheers, lots of hugs and a few tears.  Tears of happiness for sure, it was a stirring moment to be a part of. 

My journey to Cocoa Beach took quite a few twists and turns along the way.  I think that is also a lesson that I took away from these moments.  When the invitation came from NASA to attend the launch I was very excited, decided that it was something that could not be missed.  That was my first reaction, then I started looking at flight prices, hotel rates, rental cars, the need to maybe be there for about a week and decided that it was a bit beyond my budget.  Then a call from my friend Steph, we have a couch you can sleep on; we can get you to and from the airport, just stay for two days and let’s see what happens. That’s not the kind of offer that one can easily look past.  I took that as a sign that I needed to try to find a way to make this happen.  So I scheduled a short trip.  I flew out of Dallas late Tuesday afternoon, and flew home late Thursday night.   I had a voucher for two free airline tickets from AirTran, with the change in dates for my trip and the mid-week travel I was able to use my free ticket.  When I booked the flight I knew that would give me Wednesday and Thursday to see the launch if it were delayed.

The night before, I talked to Steph, change in plans, the space shuttle was going to launch in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. That would probably push the LRO launch out to later in the week which meant that I would miss it for sure. A shuttle launch sounded very cool, what a chance this would be.  But fate has a way of lining things up the way they are meant to be.  The Endeavor mission was scrubbed, and LRO was back on to be the launch I would get to see.  I’m sure the Endeavor may have been a bigger deal—not sure since I didn’t see it.  But I liked the extra part of sharing this experience with people that I knew, who were involved with this mission.  I’m not sure that is a feeling that could have been replicated.  To me it was very humbling to be a part of other people’s dreams, hopes and goals.  I was a spectator in the stands, but watching much more than just a launch.

You would think that seeing the launch would be the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of my adventure, but as the infomercials say, “But wait, there’s more.”

Steph and her husband Frank were going to drive me back to the airport after the launch, plenty of time for me to make my flight.  That would mean that they would have to leave at the height of the celebratory moment, when the buzz was the strongest.  A call came into both of their cellphones, Brook and Stephanie Shipp had found me a ride to the airport with two of the library ladies attending the launch. You know me, I’m always getting into cars with strangers, so this really did not seem unusual to me.  Steph said maybe I could have a drink with the library ladies prior to the flight..ummm these are library ladies, remember? I don’t think so.

I called them Thelma and Louise.  I truly believe that all sorts of people are put into my life to give me lots of experiences.  I looked at these two elderly ladies, just another stone in that path.  Louise was the navigator for her sister Thelma.  They weren’t quite sure where they had parked.  Louise was on the phone when they arrived, so she couldn’t remember.  As Thelma and Louise wandered off to find their car, a cream colored PT Cruiser, I headed off to retrieve my suitcase.  I told the ladies where I would wait for them.

First, I saw the cream colored car go one way, and then I saw it come back again. It seems they had shifted things in the parking lot, so you could only exit.  Somehow they managed to make their way where I was standing.  I waved goodbye to Frank and Steph as I put my luggage, and myself in the back of their car. Within minutes of getting in that car, the laughs began. 

“So, you are both library ladies?” I thought that was an innocent enough question.

“Heavens know.”

“Ahhh, so you two really own a strip club in Colorado?”

“Yes, and we are not the management.”

I knew I was in for quite an adventure with these two.  It was non-stop laughter for the one hour drive to the airport.  I was a new audience for their stand-up act, and they were not going to waste the opportunity.  I learned that they were sisters, close in age, best friends and travelling buddies.

“She went to school first, and came home and taught me how to read and write.”

“Yes, I did, when she got to school they thought she was very smart.”

“I still write like a third grader, she didn’t do a very good job at it.”

At this point, I was snorting, and that’s when I told them that I was calling them Thelma and Louise for the rest of the trip.

“We call our GPS system our ‘Navi-Gator’”. I felt reassured that we had GPS that we would get there ok. 

“You know, this think kinda shimmies when you go over 70”.  That was in reference to their cream colored baby.  When I asked what kind of car Thelma drove in Colorado she told me “An old lady car.”

At one point Thelma was wrestling to get something out of her pocket. 

“Thelma, what are you reaching for?” Louise looked at her like she was crazy.

When Thelma pulled the half eaten bag of Skittles out of her pocket I began to laugh.

“They gave me these before we left, they said if she started acting all goofy and stuff this would help to calm her down.” 

The time driving to Orlando zipped by as we talked about the launch and the experience of it all. They were scheduled to fly out the next morning back to Colorado.  As we waited in line at the toll both to get into the airport, Thelma remarked that she couldn’t see because she had rocket dust in her eyes.

In truth, Thelma was a retired middle school science teacher/principal who now does consulting work on educational programs. Louise works as an accountant. They told me not to tell that they weren’t really library ladies. Shhhhhhhhhh…

On the way to the airport I received a call that my flight had been delayed, that I would miss my connecting flight in Atlanta.  They could schedule me on a later flight that was also delayed, but it was a direct flight.  So I left an hour late, and got home an hour early.  I had time for a nice dinner at the airport, time to do a little knitting, and time to reflect on my short trip to Florida.

I came away from this trip believing that life puts us on all sorts of paths. Some paths you choose some paths are chosen for you some paths you choose not to take, some paths you stand on the edge of trying to decide whether or not to go.  If you forever stand on the edge of the path trying to decide what to do, your life can continue on, more or less the same.  But if you take a step outside of that comfort zone, there is a big world of new experiences out there.

There were so many memories made on this trip, moments that I tried to imprint on my brain and in my heart.

  • Watching Brooke in the days leading up to the launch, and at the launch.  It still makes me a bit teary eyed. What an incredible person, and I was so happy to be a part of the launch with her.  I would be in her posse anytime!
  •  Swimming in the ocean at night with the plankton luminescence. Who knew that my breasts could still sparkle like that? (Even Thelma and Louise new about the plankton luminescence!
  • Attending the reception on Wednesday evening and having people wander up to me wondering just who I was.  I decided to shock them and tell them that I met these people on the Internet.  Stephanie Shipp gave me the title of New Media Expert.  That seemed to impress them more than my story.
  • BUNKY’S!!!

Thank you for my friends Frank, Steph, Steph2 and Brooke for sharing their condo, their car and their moment with me.  I never would have thought that I would ever have such a life experience as being at that launch. 


2 thoughts on “Wow…

  1. Well written first off! I just love your take on this exciting adventure. I also like how it puts a human-side to this scientific endeavor. Folks like the Stephanies, and Brooke pour their hearts into this type of work.

    And the Thelma and Louise part is, in typical AnnOhio style, quite enjoyable!

  2. Sounds like a grand adventure, Annie. Thank you for reporting your experiences but especially your feelings and impressions about your trip.

    Anyone can tell where they went…not all can make others wish they’d gone along, too.

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