Friday, January 28, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I remember almost every detail of what happened 25 years ago today.  I was in class at Cocoa Beach High School.  It's one of the closest high schools to the Kennedy Space Center.  Almost everyone had a family member working out at KSC.  And while we all knew the amount of effort and work that went into launching a shuttle, they had become quite routine.  Liftoffs were happening about once a month.  In fact the Columbia had just taken off on Jan 12. 

So it was quite a terrible shock that we all got that day when the Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.  Everything stopped at school.  I remember the horrible mis-shappen vapor-trail cloud hanging in the air.  I also remember rushing to the library, all of us crowded around one television set, watching the explosion repeat ad nauseum on an endless news-cycle loop.  The volume was cranked up all the way, but none of it made much sense.

It was a numbing experience to be sure.  Nobody was sure what would happen next.  While the rest of the country moved on, we had to deal with it on a daily basis.  Parts of the shuttle were washing up on the beaches.   People were being laid off.  Crazy rumors were everywhere.

But I also remember when that wonderful hopeful feeling began creeping back in.  Eventually NASA starting working towards the first post-Challenger launch.  It was a few years later, and I was more nervous watching that liftoff than I was watching the very first one.  I was sitting behind Cape Canaveral Hospital with a few friends watching the launch across the water.  As the shuttle headed into the sky we all held hands, and hoped and prayed that everything would be fine.  And it was!  It was a beautiful launch.  The crowd that was gathered there all screamed and cheered.

The shuttle that took off that day was the Discovery; the same one that will launch for the very last time in a few weeks.  And I will be there to document it as it happens.  In fact I'm sitting on my floor right now, surrounded by my camera gear.  I'm getting everything ready and making sure it's all in working order. I'll be leaving this Sunday to photograph Discovery as it rolls out to the launch pad for the last time. It seems like everything has come full circle.

And on that last note I have to offer up one huge 'Thank You!' to the wonderful Dr Cathy Subber.  She has very generously offered to sponsor my next two trips down to Florida to work on this effort. The Last Shuttle Project is only able to function because of donations and sponsors, so I'm really thrilled that she stepped up to help.  She was following along on my blog, and on Facebook, and she contacted me to ask what she could do.  She's a wonderful person, and if you are in the Chicago area you should definitely check out her practice-

So thanks to Cathy, and to the rest of you.  I enjoy telling people about it.  I was interviewed this morning by a local college that is doing an article on a few members of the team.  And then I found myself at a luncheon with people asking me how the project is going and when I'm headed down to Florida again.  I can't wait to share the photos with you from this next trip. Stay tuned!

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